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.

Writing and Expats

It was the end of November, and I was once again trolling Facebook for recent updates.  With a few days off for Thanksgiving, I had decided to travel back to North Carolina to visit my friends from the two years that I lived there.  While I was sitting in the apartment I used to share with my ex-roommate, I clicked on one of the groups that I am technically a part of but rarely keep tabs on.  Someone in the group had posted a link to something call the Parfitt Pascoe Writing Residency, which was open for applications until December 1st.

For fun, I clicked on the link and read the description of applicants the residency sought.  I chuckled when I realized they were looking for people like me–people who had lived (or currently live) cross-culturally and who are newish writers.  Recipients of the scholarship commit to an eight week writing course and attend the FIGT 2015 conference to report on the sessions.

I applied, and in a week found out I had been picked as one of the four writing scholars.  With that, I began an eight-week online course on writing and placing articles, and will be traveling to the FIGT 2015 conference in March to cover the sessions that occur (which, ironically, will be the weekend after I get back from my next trip to Haiti…).

As part of my writing course, I’ll be posting some book reviews and other things to my blog, so stay tuned as I get to write and read more about expats and cross-cultural transitions.

For more information about FIGT, check out their website: http://figt.org or follow them on Twitter @crossingculture.

Southern Hospitality

When I started this blog, its primary purpose was to document my cross-cultural experiences.  In the past couple of years, I’ve tended to drift away from these topics–not because I don’t have enough topics like that to blog on having moved to the South, but more because I’ve been…teaching.  For this post, I’d like to go back to that purpose.

So if my readers (though I know they are few and far between) might join me for a moment in enjoying Southern hospitality, I would be glad to share what exactly prompted such a return in topic.

Today school called for a two hour delayed opening due to an ice storm that came through last night.  I used to scoff when the South shut down for things like that, but I have a new respect for these decisions after today.

I drove into school early because I needed to prep sub plans before leaving for an appointment an hour and a half away.  Ten minutes after I got to school, the 2-hr delay became a no school day.  So I started driving to the big city for my appointment.

As I pulled out of school, I knew that the roads were not in the best condition.  Not being able to stop completely before turning right at a stop sign showed me that.  [Please note: this post is not to highlight my own stupidity and lack of common sense–I’m very aware of that and chalk it up to never having driven on black ice, despite having lived in New England for four years.]  I made a mental note to myself to be careful and kept going.

About fifteen minutes down the road, I discovered what black ice does.  One of the things it does is prevents you from braking effectively.  As I far too rapidly approached the car in front of me, I realized that I had two options: either rear-end the car, or turn into the ditch.  I opted for the ditch, and effectively spun into the median of US-64.  Stuck in the frozen-mud-turned-slush, I could not get out. [This post is also not make you all worried–I’m fine.]

Literally within 5 minutes of sitting in the ditch, a truck carrying three construction workers pulled over and the guys inside pushed my car out.  I reiterated my previous mental note: be careful.

Despite the shimmy in my car, I kept going, though it became a 45 mph trip instead of anything more.  And about 15 minutes later, the black ice continued.  As I was trying to change lanes, the car lost traction again, and another spin out was underway.  I missed a speed limit sign by a few feet and ended up with the front of my car on the shoulder of the road and the back end of the car slipping into the ditch on the side of the road.

Not two minutes after that had happened, a van had pulled over.  Five minutes later, there were two other trucks pulled over helping me get the car out and going again.  With a combination of pushing, braking, and driving on the grass, we were going again.  Mental note: be very, very careful.

I was struck by the graciousness of North Carolinians to pull over immediately and help, especially since the ice posed some danger for them also.  In both circumstances, the span of time between me spinning out and someone stopping was less than five minutes.  Sometimes I wonder if this would have happened in other states, or even closer to the city.  I remember as a kid sitting on the side of the road for much longer than that because our second-hand car had overheated again.  Not in North Carolina.

For obvious reasons, I ended up stopping at the Toyota dealership during my time in the big city to have them look at my car.  There was no way I was driving an hour and a half back when the steering wheel was visibly shaking at 40 mph.

When I walked into the dealership in New Jersey to buy my car, I had the feeling that the only thing they were trying to do was take my money.  However, North Carolina car dealerships are slowly inching their way up the list of favorite places for me to spend my time in.

When I walked in I must’ve looked a little lost.  “Are you being helped?” a jolly looking guy asked.

“Uh, not yet, but if you could help me, that would be great,” I replied.

“Yeah, you had that lost look about you.  Have you been here before?”

“Nope.”  This followed by a series of questions about what was wrong with my car.  Not long after he walked into the waiting room to explain what was wrong with the car and what they would do to fix it.

“Are you comfortable?  Can we get you anything?” he asked about twice during our conversation.

I assured him I was fine.  After he gave me the quote, I half jokingly asked if they gave a teacher discount.

“Yeah, absolutely!” was the answer he gave.  About an hour and a half later I walked out with 10% off the total for being a teacher.

During my two hours sitting in the dealership, I watched as not only the serviceman working with me, but nearly every other serviceman greeted the other customers waiting by name and had conversations with them.  I saw how much they knew their customer’s stories, and realized how much people in the North often miss out on the stories and how those stories impact people.

Like I said before, my goal tonight is not to highlight my own ineptitude of driving on ice (you can call it foolishness), nor to worry my parents any more than I already did by calling them on their evening telling them I’d gotten stuck in a ditch.  Rather, I was reminded of one of the many things that the South has to offer: a genuine hospitality and concern for others.  I often don’t like being the person in need and having to be on the receiving end of it, and sometimes I admittedly fail to extend that helping hand when others are in need, but I think that the example that North Carolina gave me today is definitely something to aspire to.

My Little Italy

I never expected to find something that reminded me of Italy in the United States.  But that’s probably because the majority of the United States that I had seen until now was the Northeast.  Not that I’m hating on the Northeast–can’t hate it when I called it my home for four years.  But in many ways, small town NC reminds me of Orvieto.

1. Everything is closed on Sundays.  This was the case in Italy too.  Not because they wanted to inconvenience people, but because they wanted to rest.  Makes sense.

2. Hours for stores are shorter during the week.  Again, not to be intentionally annoying, but there are better things to be doing.

3. There’s a slower pace of life all around.  Enjoy it.

4. There aren’t huge chain stores.  The closest Walmart is 30 minutes.  Forget about things like Old Navy.  There are grocery stores and dollar generals, and that’s enough.

Like I said, there’s no Duomo.  But people know who they are.  There’s more identity here than I ever found in the Northeast.  The historical aspect of it has a new kind of life that is integrated into daily living.

Small Town NC

As I’ve moved to small town North Carolina, I’ve definitely fallen in love the area.  I use the term “move” lightly, given the fact that I still don’t have a house and my worldly possessions are still crammed in my car.  Hopefully that will change soon.

It’s been fun to get to know the town.  In some ways, it reminds me a little bit of Orvieto…loosely.  In this case, I can speak the language.  There’s no massive Duomo in the center of town, but there is an element of the town’s history that is more alive than other places I’ve seen in the northeast.  These people know who they are.

I’ve also come to realize that I’m something of an oddity to the people here.  And after talking to them, I’m starting to understand why.  I’m someone who went from Taiwan to Massachusetts to North Carolina.  Why?  Because I wanted to.  Because I could.  Because I thought NC sounded like a cool state to live in.

And after people hear about how I went from one side of the world to the other and then down to the South, they still can’t quite see why.  And I’m starting to understand why that’s so bizarre for them.  I guess globalization takes different forms in different parts of the world.  For me, globalization implies an ability to connect parts of the world not just through technology, but through actually going there and physically being a part of other places.  For other people, globalization is more just an access to more information and an awareness, not necessarily the fluidity of travel.

Even so, I still love the small town.  Again, throwback to Orvieto days.

Loss of Listening

Over the past several weeks I’ve discovered one of my newest and largest pet peeves: failure to listen.  And not just to listen, failure to hear.  Listening and actually hearing are two different things.

Ironically enough, the cause of this irritation did not come from my students.  While my ninth graders indeed have trouble listening and I repeat instructions at least three time, for the most part it’s simply their age level that makes it difficult to remember sequential instructions.  While I could get more done in a block if I only had to review instructions once, I don’t mind that type of inability to listen so much.

The lack of listening that has grown to bother me is the kind that comes up in a conversation.  And I’m guilty of it also.  The kind where you’re in the middle of a sentence and the other person suddenly throws something random in, and you wonder, “Are you hearing anything I’m saying?”  Or when you start to say something and the other person finishes your sentence and you think, “That’s exactly the opposite direction that I was going.”  Like I said, I do it to.  I wonder if it goes along with the informational era that we live, where we are constantly being bombarded with new sensory information that our minds have to keep jumping around to keep up with it.  We have trouble focusing.

I think that reason it bothers me so much, though, is because of the value that I place on both words and time.

My time is important to me, as is the time of whomever I am working with or talking to.  Not listening devalues that time.

Words are a means of expression of the soul, trying to verbalize thoughts that feelings that often cannot fully be verbalized.  To not fully hear those words is to devalue someone as a person.

I titled this “Loss of listening” as opposed to “Lack of listening” because I feel like it’s slowly getting worse in society.  We keep hearing so many things that we tune that many more out…so much so that we miss the really important things.

Don’t miss out.

Meanwhile, I am immensely enjoying my vacation week.

No Title

I have no title for this post.  Mostly because it’s not anything profound.  School was funny today.  It was funny because today was the day that many of the teachers found out I was from Taiwan.

I really want to know what goes through the minds of other people in conversations like this.  There’s always an awkward pause, when I can see them thinking, “Oh…didn’t see that one coming.”  This is either followed by intelligent questions about what in the world I was doing in Taiwan, do I speak Chinese fluently, and how I ended up in small town Massachusetts, or the conversation stops right there.  I actually felt honored today that the teachers at my high school who, while a little surprised that this white girl from a small Christian college is actually from Taiwan, took it in stride and had fantastic questions.

But along with that, I’m reminded that as much as I don’t want others to judge me based on my ethnicity, nor should I be judging others based on it.  I was most rapidly put in my place when, in helping another teacher formulate a response to past experiences on cultural diversity, I learned that she had had just as many if not more insights than I did through past experiences.  My assumption that since she was teaching in a small town predominantly white New England high school meant that she had never interacted with other cultures was entirely unfounded, and I realized that I had fallen into the same trap that I wished others to avoid with me.  Whoops.  Lesson learned.