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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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

The Year I Stayed

This past weekend, my roommate and I went to my coworker’s house for a scrapbooking day. Call me corny, but I love scrapbooking–it’s a way for me to remember all of the phenomenal experiences I’ve been blessed to have. I’m not a phenomenal scrapbooker and don’t go all out, but there’s something sacred about putting a picture on a page and memorializing it.

My coworker and roommate were looking through my life scrapbook. By the time we flipped to my college years, it was fun to hear my roommate go, “Hey look, it’s me!” We’ve been friends since freshman year of college. “I like seeing where I appear in cross-sections of your life,” she said later.

As I thought about how so many of the people who are important to me reappear in random places, I was reminded again how blessed I am to have sustained relationships with so many people across the globe.

But I also realized that sometime it doesn’t take cool stories to have a meaningful life.

A few weeks ago I got a card in the mail from a friend who’s baby shower I’d attended a couple of weeks previously. She’s a friend I met while I was student teaching, and somehow kept in touch with after I moved to North Carolina and made an effort to see every time I came back up to visit. I was flattered when I read in the card that she felt I’d become one of the closest friends she has.

As a TCK, I tend to measure my life by travel, countries, and cool stories (how many other people can say that they’ve lived in a 700 year old monastery??). These are the stories that make people ooh and ahh around the table, and give you cool points in a social gathering.

But realizing the impact that simply being present in a location for a year can have made me realize that life’s value extends far beyond where I’ve been and what I’ve done. Life’s value also comes from the relationships that are built. When you’re building them, it doesn’t always feel like you’re doing much. They don’t always come with cool stories that start with, “That time I was in Thailand.” But they mean that people matter.

I almost moved abroad again this year. I think I would have had a lovely time in Turkey if I had. But I also think I would have missed out on some meaningful relationships from this year. And for those relationships, I’ll be forever grateful.

Book Review: Letters Never Sent

At the beginning of March, I had the privilege of meeting Ruth van Reken at the FIGT conference. As a TCK, hers was a name I had heard frequently, but until the conference I don’t think I actually believed that she was a real person. She’s one of the realist, most authentic people I have ever met. Her honesty, sincerity, and assessment of the world were refreshing.

It’s still a little weird for me to meet the authors of books that I read. I read Ruth’s Letters Never Sent about a month after the conference. If you’re a global nomad, this book must go on your must-read list. I never knew that a person could take the feelings that so many TCKs experience and put them into words on a piece of paper. Yes, Ruth is an expert in the TCK field due to the research she has conducted, but this book reaches beyond the research and into the heart of the TCK. I started the book on a flight to Haiti and finished it on the return flight.

Ruth writes with an incredible amount of honesty about the impact that various aspects of her TCK experience had on her. The book itself compiles journal entries about experiences she had throughout her life. Some letters are addressed to her parents respectively, some to God. She captures all aspects of life—marriage, faith, community, career—and somehow puts words to act of processing each of these through the lens of being a global nomad. The fact that the book is well-written is beside the point–above all, Ruth is real about the experience and the impact that it had on her, and that in itself is powerful in a world where TCKs often feel misunderstood.

I would strongly recommend TCKs, parents of TCKs, and those who work with TCKs to read this book. While this book by no means offers a “how to” recipe for raising a TCK (because there is no recipe), it does give a glimpse into a long-term impacts that such a transient lifestyle can have on an individual. That insight can be invaluable for understanding such a person.

So if you haven’t already, please pop over to Amazon and order it—either for yourself, a friend, or another TCK you know.

Visible Learning

Earlier this month I read Doug Ota’s newly published book Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it (highly recommended for anyone working with frequently transitioning families).  I’ll publish a book review on it shortly.

One of the focal points of Ota’s book is a study by John Hattie entitled Visible Learning.  Hattie recently completed a study measuring the impact that various influencers have on student learning outcomes.  These influencers ranged from teaching techniques to teacher attributes to school structures to student home life.  I found the breakdown of each of these influencers to be fascinating (to see all of them, visit this website).

A couple of key take-aways that I got from this as an educator:

1. Most things have a positive effect on a student’s learning.  Out of the 137 influences listed, only 5 had a distinctly negative effect.  Some of these are controllable within a school setting (i.e. providing formative evaluation) and some of these are not (i.e. gender).  I don’t think it’s realistically possible for a teacher to be attentive to all 132 to the 137 factors that lead to positive learning, but as long as some of them are being addressed, then I feel like teachers can be confident that we’re going to decent job.

2. I found it interesting that most of the influences indicated as having the most positive impact on student learning were not necessarily teaching strategies, but rather larger processes that a teacher can incorporate into anything.  For example, self-reporting grades can be incorporated into any classroom (side note: I’ve always wondered about the impact of self-reported grades, because as a teacher I wondered how accurate a student would be…but I guess whether or not they are accurate doesn’t necessarily indicate how helpful they are in student learning).  Or something like comprehensive interventions for learning disabled–not something specific that a teacher does, but something that a whole school can get behind.

3. The five negative influences on student learning were fascinating: summer vacation, welfare policies, retention, television, and mobility.  I guess this could be solid evidence for eliminating summer vacation and moving to a year-round school system.  But then, maybe we should also eliminate TV and hope that student learning improves?

One thing that I appreciated about Doug Ota’s book, though, was that even though mobility was ranked at the bottom of the list in terms of negative influencers, he didn’t treat it as a crime.  Rather, Ota provided ways to help people who are constantly mobile continue to learn well.

Which I think should be a take away from this entire list–none of the items on this list are magic wands that will or will not increase student learning.  Instead, it’s how we respond to them and what we do with them that make a difference for students.

On Data and Stories

It’s been fascinating to hear stories of when people first discovered the term “TCK.”  For many people, it was liberating—to know that someone had put words to their story and that there were other people like them.

I can’t remember the first time I learned the term.  I don’t think that I can realistically say that I’ve always known it, but I can’t quite pinpoint an age.  I can say that it was frequently referred to by teachers at my school, and so I’ve had an awareness of it for most of my teenage life, if not earlier.

And to be honest, part of me resented that term as a child.

I didn’t resent it because it didn’t fit (it completely does!).  instead, I wondered how someone who didn’t know me could dare to predict how I would feel six months, one year, or even five years into my future.

I feared being put into a box.  But moreso, I feared that my story would be lost in a world of data.

Today as an educator, I see data everywhere.  As a classroom teacher, I compiled data on my students’ reading levels and test scores in order to strategize growth.  In my current organization, I consolidate data based on seminars we run.  On Twitter every morning, I see data points make their rounds through social networking (this morning it was, “The illiteracy rate of women in Lebanon is decreasing to attain less than 2% at the age 20”).

Data is great. It helps to tell a story. But my fear is that data becomes the story. When we focus on data, it’s easy to lose the people behind it. Unfortunately, it was something that I allowed to happen with my students. It was the same fear that I had when I was labeled as a TCK (don’t worry Mom and Dad, I don’t resent the fact that you raised me as a TCK).

But I’ve also come to realize that if we’re not careful, data can quickly become the reason for everything and can take the place of people. In education, it too often becomes the reason we educate—and it shouldn’t be that way. It can be a reason and a way to measure (and it should be!), but it should not be the only reason. We educate so that people can share and understand stories beyond data.

When Diversity is More than Race

This past weekend I’ve had the privilege of attending the Families in Global Transition Conference in Washington DC. I’ve been tasked with writing articles about each of the sessions that I’ve attended. Those articles to come.

However, I’ve also had the immense privilege of attending keynote sessions that I am not writing articles about and have inspired some thought-provoking reflections. I hope no one gets mad at me for writing about sessions that they are also covering. So, here’s the first set of thoughts:

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“I called Crayola marketing and said I could help,” Teja Arboleda chuckled in his opening keynote address. “The problem is that race has no bearing on culture. There is no such thing as a multicultural crayon!”

Those words resonated with me. As a white TCK raised in Asia, people who look at me make certain assumptions based on the color of my skin:

  • She’s American
  • She like American things (whether music, food, movies, etc.)
  • She knows about America

After seven years in the states, it’s mostly true—I know a lot about America. I tend to like American music and food. If I don’t say something about that time I traveled to the Philippines for a soccer tournament, then no one would know that I spent the majority of my childhood overseas.

But culture is more than the color of my skin. Culture is more than the color of anyone’s skin.

“Just because you eat noodles doesn’t make you Italian,” Teja added a few minutes later, reflecting on his personal experience as a multiracial child growing up across several countries.

I had to laugh a little, thinking about the times when people marveled over my use of chopsticks and knowing that this skill did not make me Chinese.

But his words spoke an immense amount of truth. They spoke to the fact that there is a deeper difference and a deeper diversity than what is visible to the naked eye.

Previously that day I had the privilege of sitting in a small group conversation with Ruth Van Reken (author of Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds). In discussing communication boundaries across cultures, our group had identified the impact that both race, ethnicity, and humor can have, among other things.

As we reflected on the conversation, Ruth commented, “Diversity here is taught via externals. People are afraid to go deeper because it’s offensive.”

On the first day of FIGT, two people had touched on what I had been trying to build in my classroom through education—the fact that diversity extends beyond the color of skins and into the being of people and who they are.

I thought of the high school social studies classroom I had taught for two years. I remembered how students had certain conceptions of me and their classmates because of the color of their skin, and how challenging it was to undo the engrained stereotypes. And then I remembered how, when we got to the Civil Rights unit or Japanese internment in US history, the room would get quiet and suddenly a little bit more interested.

“But they were people,” one student said, and I had known that in that moment we had cross that barrier of diversity based on race vs. diversity based on value of the human being.

Really, race no longer defines culture…not anymore. It probably used to, when people didn’t move around and lived in relatively the same location their whole life. But with the age of globalization and the way that countries like the United States have become “melting pots” (sorry, the social studies teacher in me still kicks in), race can no longer define culture.

And this is good. Because people are more than the color of skin. Culture is more than the color of skin. Diversity is a celebration of strengths and qualities that a person brings more than skin color.

But it can’t stop there. Because when we look past skin color and see the diversity of cultures that does not correspond with race/ethnicity, we also begin to recognize what makes us all human, and the needs and wants the go with that. As van Reken said, “You’re special, but you’re not that special. Everyone has shared experiences.”