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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Maybe the Explorers got Something Right

The good news about my new job is that it provides me with regular and somewhat frequent international travel, which provides fuel for my blog. The bad news is that the weeks surrounding my international travel are usually pretty busy, which means that I don’t actually get to post until about three weeks later (such as this time).

About three weeks ago I returned from Haiti. We were there running teacher training seminars in two separate cities, and were privileged to interact with almost 100 Haitian teachers in each city that we worked in. We drove through gorgeous mountains and had breakfast by the beach overlooking Caribbean water. We also taught outside in some pretty sweltering humidity amid random power outages and braved attack peacocks, so it wasn’t all fun and games.

As a Caucasian who has spent a chunk of time overseas and an educator, one of the things that I’m always thinking about is how I am impacting another culture as an American. This is something that I had to carefully consider before I took a job that would lead me to directly impacting the education system of a third world country. It’s also something that I had to think a lot about when I moved to North Carolina (despite it being in the United States, it was actually a very different culture than what I had lived in previously). You can find an excellent description of why I feel this way here: http://cindywords.com/an-open-letter-to-missionaries/ .

Too often I see people in other countries who uphold Americans because they believe that American way of doing things is the best–because they are white and therefore must be rich and thus must have a quality of life to be coveted. They desire to follow the “American dream” because they believe it leads to material wealth and prosperity. In so doing, many of them leave their own countries and try to conform to an American way of life.

This trip, though, I met Pierre (which isn’t his real name, but since I try to avoid posting real names on my blog, we’ll call him Pierre). Pierre interpreted our training in the second location we visited. We weren’t actually sure if he would come, because no one could get a hold of him before the seminar. But come Thursday morning, there he was, tall, skinny, in a plaid button down shirt ready to go.

As we introduced ourselves to him, he told us a little more about himself–he had interpreted for similar events to ours before, and was also a teacher. He taught history (US and World History) and was currently in university. I’m not really sure how the school system works that a person can be in university and be a teacher at the same time, but there are a lot of things that I don’t really know how they work in Haiti, so I didn’t ask.

During lunch, I snagged Pierre and started asking him questions about teaching, his classroom, and Haiti.

“You know what the real problem that we need to solve in Haiti is?” he began. Inwardly I cringed a little. I feared that he would say that the country needed more American aid coming in, that they needed more money, or more American businesses.

“We need to want something,” he continued. “The Europeans who traveled across the ocean to the New World on their boats, they had a clear objective. They were working toward something. In Haiti, too often we just wait for things to come to us. We don’t work together to get anything.”

I paused. His analysis was never something that I had expected to hear during my trip in Haiti. Moreover, it was one that I had rarely given value to myself. Frequently as a social studies teacher, I had written off the early explorers and pioneers into the United States as narrow-minded and selfish given the way that they blatantly devalued native cultures. I prided myself in getting my students to see these people not through the lens of glorification that they are traditionally taught, but with a critical eye, challenging cultural assumptions about these people.

But as I listened to Pierre, I saw someone whose analysis knew this and considered this, but saw good in them anyway. And in so doing, he took a lesson from it that transcended culture and values. He was not saying that Haiti needed to be like America. Rather, he was saying that he wanted his people to build a country that they could be proud of, and in order to do that, they could look to other parts of history as examples.

Leaving Home, Going Home

As a TCK I’ve had the privilege of living in multiple places and traveling to even more (though my counts for each of these are still minimal compared to some TCK’s).  Having seen a few different corners of the world, it’s easy to compare.  America is or isn’t like Taiwan in the following ways, Italy is or isn’t like Boston because of these things, or North Carolina is or isn’t like anywhere due to these features.

Comparing is often how people learn and make sense of our environment.  However, it can also be dangerous if we don’t allow places to speak for themselves.

Tomorrow I fly home for the first time in two years.  I decided to spend my last day of 2013 in America perusing one of the bigger (bigger being a relative term) cities of eastern North Carolina.  As I drove the hour and a half across the flat land, by the empty fields, and barren trees, I realized that it’s easy for me to miss the value of this country.

No, eastern North Carolina may not have the convenience of Taiwan, or the historicity of Italy, or the fast-paced-ness of Boston.  Yes, eastern North Carolina lacks the cultural fusion of Thailand, and the community that I found at camp.

But eastern North Carolina has its own charm to offer, and I’ve only scratched the surface of that uniqueness in my time here.  There is an amazing amount of solitude here that is so easy to go without in other parts of the world.  Granted, technology will have pervaded much of life wherever one goes, but without the big city, it’s easier to find that solitude that authors such as Henri Nouwen so often wrote about.

Eastern North Carolina also possesses a certain beauty that is harder to find in other parts of the country (whether it’s blurred by smog or obscured by city lights).  I’m blessed to be living in a part of the world where I walk out the door to go to Food Lion and have the privilege to take a detour by the water and see this:

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The cell phone picture doesn’t really do justice to what the sky actually looked like that evening.

So while I’m beyond excited to be going home, I realize that I’m also honored to be able to add this part of the world to my list of homes and see it again in 2014.

(un)Packing

I’ve bragged before about my exquisite packing skills.  Whether it’s cramming boxes into the oddly shaped trunks of cars or smashing clothes to fit into the one suitcase limit that airlines now impose upon travelers, somehow it all magically works.  One of the things I’ve enjoyed about my vacations over the past year is that I don’t have to worry about either of those.  I can just chuck all of my stuff into my Toyota, make sure it’s got a full tank of gas, and be off.  I mean, there are duffel bags involved, but if something doesn’t fit I can just throw it into a grocery bag.

Today I realized that, while I’m very good at packing, I’m not so great at unpacking.  There were, of course, a couple of other revelations that went with this today…

When I woke up this morning, I really only had about two things on my agenda.  The first was to clean.  Thoroughly.  In an effort to thwart the ants that I was beginning to see in the kitchen (in case anyone cared, I think an ant invasion has been averted…especially with the kill on contact ant spray I bought).  The second item to accomplish was the pack.  (It’s almost 6 PM, and I haven’t really packed yet…but that’s okay, because I’m good at packing.)

Revelation of the day number 1: I realized that at the end of the school year, this summer will mark the first time in about 7 years that I don’t have to pack all of my belongings into boxes, move out of somewhere, and find somewhere to store it while I go off to camp.  That was a pretty exciting realization–I guess there are some perks to being in a place for longer than 1 year.

Revelation of the day number 2: I’m really bad at unpacking.  I starting noticing this a few weeks ago when I spent 20 minutes looking for a charger only to realize that it was still in my backpack from my last trip to Williamsburg 4 months ago.  Today as I was cleaning I looked over at a box that has sat in the kitchen since I moved into my apartment.  Seven months after I’ve moved in, and I still haven’t unpacked all of my boxes.  Part of it is because I know that I don’t really need the stuff in those boxes to live now.  The other reason is that I don’t necessarily have a spot for it all, since I’m still acquiring real furniture.  But I figured now was as good a time as any to find out what was really inside.

I opened it up and had to laugh.  Of all the boxes that I’d left in my kitchen, not unpacked, this one contained my middle school and high school CD collection, an assortment of books, CD’s of pictures, and old scrapbook, my AP English Shakespeare project, and my favorite middle school computer games (Zeus, Emperor…other historically based games…too bad I didn’t have those when I was teaching ancient civilizations).

Looking through the box made me laugh at the randomness of the things that actually made it to North Carolina with me.  Some people have rooms at home with all of that middle school/high school junk in it.  Or maybe it’s shoved in an attic somewhere.  I find it ironic that after the miles I’ve traveled and flights I’ve flown, I still have it in a box.

And now I should go pack.

Those Random Conversations

Most entertaining conversation at school today:

History teacher/chair of dept. at high school: “How are things going?”

Me: “Oh, ya know, they’re going?”

History teacher: “Now, where do you live?”

Me: [confused stare] “You mean when I’m not at school?”

History teacher: “Yeah, outside of school.”

Me: [Thinking, “There is no outside of school”] saying “Well, I’m from Taiwan.”

History teacher: [Surprised stare] “So, you’re not going home for February break.”

Me: “Ahaha, no.  I don’t get to go home very often.”

History teacher: “Do you have somewhere to go?”

Me: “If I wanted to, yeah, but life’s at school for now…”

This conversation followed by a random invitation from an English teacher to go to New York next weekend.

The things that my fellow teachers at the high school have yet to learn about me.

In other news, if you haven’t seen this article yet, I don’t think I posted it here:
http://www.denizenmag.com/2012/02/two-sides-of-my-history/

What Country Am I In?

Last year at this time, I was preparing to depart for Italy.  Massachusetts was getting hit by blizzards that closed school for a week, whereas Orvieto–though in the midst of its winter, still retained its Roman beauty:

This year, I am in Massachusetts where we had a high of 50 degrees this past Friday.  I have yet to have had to shovel my car out this semester (knock on wood).  And this is what Italy has right now:

 

Someone please remind me what country I’m in??

A Belated Happy New Year

My apologies for neglecting to post in several weeks.  It’s not that I was busy.  In fact, I was very not busy.  It was more that I was on vacation–the first real vacation I’d had in about a year, since somehow things like studying abroad and summer jobs and fall semesters all ended up cramming into each other this past year.

After three and a half weeks in Taiwan, I’ve returned to the United States.  Those three weeks were full of dan bings, teas, 7-11 drinks, and all the other flavors of Taiwan that I will never find in the United States.  The customs official as I came back in was unusually intrigued by my passport–he proceeded to look through all the pages at all the stamps, read my visa from Italy, before flipping to the very last page to stamp it.  Then he saw I was born in Taiwan and thought that was the coolest thing ever.

Now I’m fighting the throes of jetlag.  It’s always worse coming back to the United States…