From Relational Poverty to Relational Wealth

This weekend I devoured Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey’s book, “What Happened to You: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing.” The succinct case studies Perry described intersected with Winfrey’s poignant debrief questions created an expected rhythm in each chapter while incorporating digestible (and understandable) neuroscience facts (basically breaking down how the brain works and why it’s relevant for relationship-building).

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It offers a paradigm shift in how we approach our understanding of why and how someone behaves is in direct relationship with their past experiences and worldview. It’s a matter of both correlation and causation. Three principles I’ve extracted from this read are: be presentbe intentional, and be rhythmic in building and maintaining relationships.

Be Present

We live in a distracted society. If we are not being fully present with someone, we are sending them the message: You aren’t important enough to hold my attention. Dismissiveness is creating both disconnection with and detachment from others. As a result, we are seeing more maladaptive behaviors such as people seeking forms of unhealthy attention-seeking, self-sabotaging, and self-destructive behavior. Oprah points out on page 258: “Isolation and loneliness are an epidemic.” Perry agrees and describes how social media connections are often “hollow.” Authentic connectedness is getting better at listening and reflecting; at having more interactions with people who are different from you. The challenge I walk away with is: Pay attention to, focus on, and learn about relationships. This is being present.

Questions to ask yourself about being present:

  • What does active listening look like for me? For them?
  • How do I practice reflective listening in my relationships?
  • What does support look like to them (relationships)?
  • How can I nurture them (relationships)?

Be Intentional

Maya Angelou always said, “You teach people how to treat you.” Everyone’s life is busy. We have different challenges and demands. If we are intentional to understand our own patterns of routine and rhythm, we can in turn be intentional in the way we improve how we treat ourselves and others. It may be that we incorporate more rest, exercise, and entertainment to regulate better; or it could be that we cut down on these things. Intentionally engaging in regulating and relating ways with others can be profoundly healing to them; to know that someone is invested and cares to be present and to play witness.

Questions to ask yourself about your intentionality:

  • How is my schedule impacting how I am intentional with others?
  • What is my intention in doing this?
  • What does safety look like to them?
  • How can I make them feel seen? Heard?

Be Rhythmic

The power of rhythm is undervalued in our understanding of resilience, regulation, and relating to others. Perry points out that there is significant research and history that showcases how regulating one’s rhythm through dancing, shooting hoops, doing needlepoint, walking, drumming, etc. is a significant way to have control over how to create space to recover and process. The power of rhythm comes into play when we want to connect with others in their ongoing stress, distress, and trauma. Perry writes, “Instead of saying, ‘Hey, tell me what you’re thinking about,’ you need to let them control when and how much they’re going to talk.” (Page 198). Be present and be intentional in how you engage others in their routine and rhythms.

Questions to ask yourself about rhythms:

  • How do I self-regulate?
  • What about my routine grounds me, centers me, calms me?
  • What are some other activities I can explore to incorporate into my regulating routine?
  • What are some activities that work well for me that I can suggest others try for themselves?

Ultimately the claim posited by Perry and Winfrey is that if we shift our approach to asking others, “What happened to you” instead of “What’s wrong with you,” we have the ability to create spaces for understanding, resilience-building, and growth in community.

In my forthcoming book, “Belonging Beyond Borders,” I explore these concepts more deeply. In each chapter I offer a self-guided reflection exercise and debrief questions to consider how to belong more holistically not only to self but also to others. Perry writes on page 203, “Most healing happens in community… a healing community is full of hope because it has seen its own people weather – survive and thrive.”

I love this quote because I offer in one of my chapters, “Hope is not passive. It’s active. When you’re hoping, you don’t wish for something; you work and do your part in expectation that things will work out for your good and well-being. We can foster hope and nurture it, but it also involves other people, places, and even possessions—all external forces outside of our internal hoping. Hope takes a willful commitment to be uncomfortable and to seek discomfort. Hope will get you to speak when others say be quiet, to stand when others say sit down.”

Relational wealth and health involves being present, being intentional, and being rhythmic. If you would like to be aware of when my book is released, please connect with me at

An Interview with Joy: a member of the “TCKs for Christ” Team.

What is your TCK story?

My story starts in Nigeria, Lagos to be exact. I am the second of four siblings and a Nigerian by fire and force (as my fellow Nigerians love to say). Growing up, my father travelled frequently as he was highly involved in academics and that was one of the stipulations of his occupation. However, I wasn’t expecting my parents to announce to the then seven-year-old me that we would be permanently moving to South Africa, where my father had been stationed for a few months. It’s been thirteen years now, and I am still getting used to the culture and languages here, but with each passing year, it has been slightly better.

What have been some of the benefits/strengths and challenges in your TCK journey that you’d be willing to share?

One huge benefit that stands out for me is that people (for most part) enjoy asking me about my country and my culture. Since South Africa is a ‘rainbow nation’ filled with diverse cultures and languages, I sometimes manage to fit in an ‘exotic/unclassified’ niche. Basically, I would be asked the same questions as a Malay whose family has stayed in SA for the past five succeeding generations, but still looks ‘different’.  However, Nigerians do not have a particularly good reputation in SA, and so I do meet people who would rather ‘judge a book by its cover’, and to those people I try to stress through my actions that a nationality is just a place of birth, legal identity and ancestry, and that an individual should be assessed by their own characteristics and not judged by preconceived notion.

As with the challenges, there have been many negative experiences I have faced, specifically as an African TCK who still resides in Africa, albeit on the other side of the continent. It would have been better if I was a TCK in Ghana, for example. Ghana is still a part of West Africa, hence the accent, culture, traditions, food, languages etc are still strikingly similar. This is something often seen in Africa. The countries of Northern Africa are similar in their cultures, traditions and religion; and so it is in the West, East and South. I should think the same rule of thumb will apply to Europe as well. Hence, South Africa is vastly different to any country in West Africa, especially when it comes to culture.

For one, I have been faced with hostility due to the fact that I don’t necessarily speak the local African language(s). People tend to think that this is disrespectful; I am in their land, so I must surely know how to speak their language; this mentality, unfortunately, is usually only applied to African TCKs by South African blacks; it is not something a non-African TCK would frequently complain about.

A second challenge has been the weird accent I have acquired. It is somewhat a sign of my failure at accclimizating, and shows a syncretism of some sort that I have managed to achieve, quite unintentionally, after my stay here. Consequently, I have an accent that is not Nigerian enough to be Nigerian, and not South African enough to be South African. Due to bullying I acquired in my primary school because of the said accent, I often have an habit of fumbling unintentionally over my words when I am in a conversion with a non-black South African (the primary school I had gone to had been attended mostly by whites), and I also have the same tendency to stumble over my words when reading aloud; when I am alone or around people I am comfortable with my calm is quickly restored.

The problem with my accent is merely an outward show of an inward identity crisis. I am now too ‘westernized’ to fit nicely into the Nigerian culture, but I am still too ‘uptight’ to fit into a very westernized South Africa. I have been called out by both a Nigerian and a South African for being disrespectful (in an African sort of way) when it wasn’t my intention to be. In both cases, I was just being ‘me’, you know, the me which tries hard to conform to two vastly different cultures while pleasing both sides at the same time, and in both cases, I had failed … miserably.

What is a food, a smell, a song, etc. that immediately brings you back to a certain point in your life and makes you feel at home?

Jollof rice! I must say, jollof rice reminds me of home and Nigerian restaurants, and also to mention any other food, save for jollof rice, would be almost akin to forsaking my Nigerian identity (and while I am here, I must also mention that Nigerian jollof is better than Ghanian!).

A smell that reminds me of home would probably be the smell of palm oil burning on a stove or any of our traditional soups like ogbono or egusi. Songs … definitely church choruses, especially ones that have the characteristic Nigerian interjections (oo! ee! etc), a splash of pidgin, and aggressive rhythmic clapping (which is probably why people say Nigerians have hard hands, we improvise our drumming in church with our hands!).

How can older ATCKs support/invest in younger TCKs?

Definitely give them space to speak of their troubles, and also provide needful advice. Being a younger TCK, I wish I had someone who had gone through a similar experience with whom I could speak to. I never did find someone like that though, and what I do know now has been through a messy run of ‘trial and error’.  In effect, there are many things I could have done differently if I had known better that would have affected me more positively today.

What would you like to say to your younger TCK self? Advice? Bible verses? Truths?

Don’t try to become someone you are not, it only leads to trouble and heartache; if you don’t fit into a group now, wait on it and try again later, forcing the process is a dangerous thing to do. Truly, as a TCK, you will soon find that you can never truly fit in; not in all areas, at least. Oh, you could come close to it, but you’ll never be fully there! Rather take your comfort in the Lord and His Word. Above all, you are a citizen of heaven before you are a citizen of any country. Take joy in the fact that God’s kingdom is made up of diverse people from different tribes, tongues and races, and you are one of them too! It took me a long time, but the friends I have now, and those who have stayed with me, are friends that I acquired through worship and prayer meetings etc. True Christians don’t care what country you are from, you are simply their brother/sister in Christ!

Also, don’t abandon your time with God,  men will always fail you in one way or the other, but Christ promises in Matthews 28:20 that He is with you always, even to the end of the world! Always remember to commit your ways to the Lord, He makes your time count. Whether you need a friend, want to play the piano better, want to get a book written, or want to neglect a bad habit, going through it your way will make the passage of time excruciatingly obvious, but when you commit your way to the Lord, He will direct your path and lead you in His timing.

Lastly, keep your minds busy on things that matter! Work, studies, position etc. are all things necessary to put food on the table; but laughter, family, literature, friends, music are what make life colorful and worth living; and neither of those care if you are a TCK or not!

Why have you decided to be a part of the TCKs for Christ team? What do you hope for this platform?

I joined the TCK for Christ team as a staff writer because I thought (and still do!) that the team was doing something that mattered! A lot of TCKs, like me, are suffering from bad memories and emotional trauma that need to be addressed. We had gone through experiences that other TCKs/future TCKs could avoid or better manage if they are given a better approach.

What is a resource or type of care that you would like to see provided for/offered to TCKs in the future?

Definitely more online Christian help groups like TCKs for Christ. Maybe a magazine/journal/podcast specifically targeting Christian TCKs. Anything really that encourages fellowship and oneness across borders!

Website link –
Email List link –

What is TCKs for Christ?

TCKs for Christ is a website ministry that strives to serve, encourage, and challenge teenage Christian third culture kids and young adult TCKs. These include missionary kids, business kids, cross-cultural kids, mixed-cultural kids, diplomat kids, etc. 

The TCK life has its struggles and challenges, and TCKs for Christ desires to encourage a TCK in truth and to tell them that they are not alone and there’s Someone who cares more than they can ever know. The TCKs for Christ team consists of TCKs writing for young TCKs to motivate them to use their gifts for His kingdom and to live victoriously with a firm identity in Jesus Christ. 

Who are TCKs?

Third Culture Kids or TCKs are people who have lived in a culture other than their parents’ or their passport/birth country’s culture during their developmental years or years before adulthood.

Does TCKs for Christ have an Email List?

Yes, they do! Upon signing up, you will receive exclusive content of one TCK letter and one newsletter per month in your inbox.

The TCK Letters convey heartfelt experiences through words, in which a few of our writers talk about the struggles and triumphs of their TCK life.

The Monthly Newsletter is a fun, convenient summary of new articles and interviews published on our website for the month.

Interested? Subscribe through their website,

Where Could I Connect with Them?

Their social media handle is @TCKsforChrist. Connect with them through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

A Sunday Reflection on Braving Fear & Raging Peace

It’s five o’clock on an August Sunday and I feel the weight of the world although I am safe and unharmed on my couch in the sunroom. The screen door is open and I hear the rustling leaves and light traffic on the main road. It’s quiet. It’s unhurried. I’ve just finished a book I bought on Friday and reach for my phone — a default transition habit. Scroll after scroll I am bombarded with the fears, pain, and unknowns of people I know and that I don’t know. I wonder if we as humans were ever designed to consume so much visual and written trauma in one setting (or sitting!) through one medium. As my current world is in relative equilibrium, I feel for those whose worlds are upside down and broken. Granted, I have my own traumas, suffering, and brokenness to navigate and heal from; but in the security of my home and with the freedom and ability within my power, I decide to do what I can to encourage and thank those in my sphere. Perhaps that is the purpose of this moment to brave fear and rage peace.


As I sit here in comfort and abundance I know that it is my calling in this moment to invest encouragement into others. We are all going through hard things. Our hearts feel dry. Our hearts are hurting. At this moment I am compelled to say “persevere!” I want to scream “how can I help?” At the same time I’m tempted to panic. And yet I look at what is within my reach and my ability – who can I encourage with a word, a smile, a handwritten note? I feel inadequate, but I move bravely and sometimes awkwardly to encourage. To encourage means “to inspire with courage” and so I share hope and my heart in love.


In this season my heart is awakened to those who anchor me. Who teach me. Who challenge me. Who invite me. Who invest in me. And I am deeply grateful. To build relationships is an extraordinarily brave act. To be vulnerable with a select trusted mentor who helps settle your soul is an extraordinary gift. I am grateful for those who entrust me with their prayer requests, their pain, their hurts. I pray. I am grateful for those who nudge me to reconnect with someone in my sphere who could use a kind word; those whose worlds are collapsing around them and need to know that I see it too. Be grateful for your people.


Am I listening to my soul? Am I encouraging others to listen to theirs? Our souls are crying for purpose and for stability. It is within my power to purposefully pause to grant my soul grace. For the unknowns, the mistakes, the judgments, the assumptions. It is within my power to grant other’s grace. For this is what I know: the world is suffering. There is heartache. Can we commit to grant more grace to each other? Perhaps that is our purpose when we don’t know what else is.


In the coming days, months, and even years, may we have the courage and commitment to welcome grace more – for both ourselves and for others. May we reach out more to connect intentionally. May we be extraordinarily brave as we wage raging peace on our souls, minds, and bodies. 

In these days, may our fear not overwhelm our faith. 

I pick up the book again and thumb through the pages. I stop at one of the sentences I’ve underlined. I’m grateful for Ann Voskamp’s words: “Fear is what we feel but brave is what we do.” 

Go brave the fear. Each day.

Truth4TCKs 2021 Conference Blog Tour

I’m excited to share with you about the special weekend event, Truth4TCKs 2021, that I’m speaking at! Truth4TCKs 2021 is a virtual conference for teenage and young adult Christian TCKs, whether they be Missionary Kids, Military Kids, Expat Kids, Business Kids, Diplomat Kids, etc. The conference mission strives to bring biblical truth and encouragement regarding the cross-cultural and highly mobile life to TCKs. The conference’s administrative team is made up of teenagers and young adults serving teenagers and young adults. It is not an organization; rather, an organic movement. The theme for this year’s conference is finding what it means to be a global citizen of Heaven. 

The title of my sessions is “Belonging Beyond Borders.”

To me the word “borders” are the “bounded” spaces of nation-state boundaries that are politically created, moved, (re)imagined, and (re)mapped. There are over 190 borders on the earth; in other words, over 190 countries. I’m hyper aware of borders and boundaries because of my multiple experiences between them, over them, around them, and through them. As an Adult Third Culture Kid (a Third Culture Kid grown up), I have lived in ten countries and five U.S. states. I’ve crossed many borders in my 30+ years not just for moving, but also because of my love for traveling. It’s a personal goal to visit more countries than my age – I’m just a couple countries behind.

Growing up as a diplomat dependent TCK, every two to three years we would move to a different country. This is why being a Third Culture Kid is a significant part of my identity shaping and even has informed the professional path(s) I’ve chosen to pursue.

For me, the concept of “belonging” to people and to place has shifted and changed over the years. As I think about all the places and communities and people groups to whom I’ve belonged, different faces and objects and environments come to mind. I recall that when I lived in Seoul, South Korea one of the communities I belonged to was the Girl Scouts of America (on the Yongsan military base). I belonged to the US military base housing community located to the left of the main gate entrance, which was distinct from the housing community to the right of the gate because that was “North Korea” in my seven-year-old mind. When in Germany, I belonged to two different international schools; for our first year in the country: Bonn International School and for the following two years: Frankfurt International School. In terms of belongings, living in U.S. government owned houses, the furniture never belonged to us; it was always a surprise to see what kind of chairs and tables and sofas we would have upon arrival in a new country. My personal belongings fit into a handful of boxes, which have multiplied over the years and my Dad sometimes comments: “What’s in those?” as I store some of them in their basement. “My childhood belongings,” I reply. I like my belongings. (Thanks for the storage area, Mom and Dad).

Belonging to friends, community, places, professions, and possessions continue to be a journey for me as an Adult Third Culture Kid. And as I work with the next generation of Third Culture Kids as a friend, mentor, advocate, and educator, I want to share some principles of belonging that root deeper and longer than times spent in a certain man-made border.

Professionally speaking, I belong in and to multiple spaces. You’ll see my face across sectors. You’ll see me call myself a TCK Mentor/Advocate, an Intercultural Communication Trainer/Consultant, and English Language Instructor. I’ve got the pieces of papers and letters behind my name that showcase how much time and effort I’ve invested to hold those professional identity titles and roles. I’ll continue to be the chameleon professional showing up at NAFSA: the largest international educator conference and community, showing up at Families in Global Transition (FIGT), showing up at the Society for Intercultural Training, Education, and Research (SIETAR). The thread of commonality is that I do have the personal and professional expertise to adapt myself and my materials and resources to different audiences.

Not too long ago one of my mentors, Dr. Ruth Van Reken, gave me a self-reflection task to help me identify my next right career pivot. She told me to list out everything I am (from personality qualities to strengths and from skills to knowledge/topic expert) and list out everything I am not (from qualities I don’t have — or at least the ones that make me feel exhausted trying to “be ” and other “expert” claims/roles). This was a helpful exercise in revealing “what lane I’m in” and where are potential paths I can take in my career trajectory. This exercise reminded me of the French saying, “Quand on connait sa maladie, on est a mortie gueri” roughly translated: “When you know your sickness, you are halfway cured.” In building my awareness for who I am and who I’m not, provided more clarity and direction about what will suit me both professionally and personally. It also reminded me of my gifts and talents and how I can both invest and cultivate them in different ways.

As an Adult Third Culture Kid, I still wrestle with where and to whom I belong. Sometimes I feel pulled and pushed in different communities; sometimes denied and invited; sometimes spread thin and isolated. I feel like I’m a walking contradiction with all of my paradox belongings and expressions of identity in and through them. In some spaces, communities, and places I am brave; others: quiet. In some believer, in others: doubter. Life for all of us is full of paradoxes. And that’s ok. We are intersectional beings to communities, places, and cultures and we can shift our minds to view these as “productive tensions” instead of pesky paradoxes. 

We can be change and continuity. We can be dislodged and rooted. We can be global and local. That’s the power of “and.”

What’s true is that you are a human with multiple identities, roles, and places of belonging. You are a unique human being that offers talent, a listening ear, curiosity, adventure, poise, and love to others. Perhaps you have had a global or cross-cultural upbringing, meaning you may identify as a Third Culture Kid (TCK). Sometimes being a TCK has “carried” you through your circles of belonging to people and to place. But know that you are so much more than “just” a TCK. Don’t let being a TCK be your “issue” or decision or excuse in why you can or can’t belong to people or to a place.

My personal identity and belonging concepts are complex, nuanced, and ever-changing. One steadfast identity marker and belonging root I cultivate is my Christian-faith and personal journey as a Christ-follower. Throughout my life I have been a part of various Christian faith-communities and denominations; a member of various places of worship and practitioner of different faith traditions. It never ceases to amaze me how there are so many different expressions of worship, prayer, sermons, scriptures, and services across “borders.” I grew up and came of age in Christian faith communities that primarily taught me to pray specifically; that way you know it was God who answered it. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the energy and manifestation of it. I believe in answered prayer, because I have witnessed it.

As I continue to grow spiritually in my Christian faith journey, my prayer practices and patterns change in different seasons of life. I often say quiet prayers throughout the day; sometimes as a meditation, sometimes as a “Hey, God: that was pretty cool what you just did there. Thanks.” Sometimes as short mantras. Sometimes prayer is experienced as ethereal and otherworldly soul flutters. Sometimes my prayers are Bible verses. Sometimes my prayers are offered with others’ words. Sometimes prayer happens in community in call-and-response style liturgy. Sometimes my prayers are whispers under my breath, sometimes spoken aloud in the car, sometimes in the wee hours of the night in my bed, and sometimes when I’m doing yoga in the morning. Sometimes they are wordless prayers as I believe what Mahatma Gandhi said: “It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without heart.” These are prayers of blessing and of declaration; of gratitude and of pleas. These prayers are for you, for me, for the world.

I am compelled to share this because it’s my desire that you know that I have prayed for this event, for the organizers, for the speakers, and for the participants. My prayer is that it is a gathering for you to be encouraged, for you to be affirmed, for you to learn and to be challenged in your own faith journey. As this event explores and unpacks the truths about Christian belonging, may we all settle into some space and silence to prepare our souls, minds, and bodies for the words shared by both speakers and participants.

Have grace for yourself and for others as we listen, receive, learn, and share what it means to belong beyond borders. I’m so grateful for the courage and willingness and grace we will have for ourselves and for each other at this event.

Dates for Truth4TCKs 2021

The virtual conference takes place on May 22 and 23, 2021

Cost of Truth4TCKs 2021

$10 per person.

$17 for the recorded sessions.

Registration for Truth4TCKs 2021

Unlearn Before You Learn

5 Ways to Increase Your Self-Awareness about Community and the “Other”

2021 continues to produce collective grief, change, and ambiguity. In an effort to draw our attention to what we can control and to provide hope for courageous leaders to step into roles for responding well, the following are five ways to practice intentional self-reflection to bring about more love and more understanding to ourselves first and also to our neighbors. 


Look at your own identity in new and relevant ways. In what areas can you exercise your own power and privilege to be an advocate and change-agent for what you would like to see changed in your community? Perhaps it’s your age, ability, education, or employment that provides you with opportunities to create change. But it first begins with looking closely at your own agency and knowing how to use it to affect change. Unlearn your typical ways of “seeing” people and assuming their ability/inability just off of that sole identity marker. Learn to approach self and others with a sense of curiosity for their entire identity.


Listen to more stories of your community members. This requires seeking out diversified voices, news outlets, social media channels and personalities, and community leaders. What are the stories not making headlines? What are the stories not even making the news? Committing to listening to stories and the feelings embedded in them can cultivate increased empathy skills which will result in greater tolerance, understanding, and solidarity.


Learn about your biases. Biases are automatic judgments our brain makes about people, situations, and experiences. To learn about them is to recognize the judgements you associate with a person or a situation. This can be how stereotypes are formed and readily accepted if they align with your judgements. Because it’s humanly impossible to eliminate biases from our brains, it’s important to slow down and think through the why of our judgments and assumptions.

Lean in

Lean into where you can enact change. Where are the intersections of where you have felt ‘othered’, ‘marginalized,’ and misunderstood? This can be a starting point for you to understand how to engage in dialogue and perspective-taking when learning about power and privilege. Leaning into discomfort of difficult conversations with self and with others takes courage.

Let go

Let go of complacency. There can be complacency in thoughts, actions, assumptions, and accepting routine. To challenge yourself to learn about more perspectives is to let go of one-sided stories, stereotypes, and siloed opinions. It will unearth biases and replace them with holding multiple truths.

Unlearning to learn is an act of courage and of love. Loving self and others requires looking, listening, learning, leaning into, and letting go of assumptions and judgements.

Washington DC Reflection Piece from American University Graduation 2016

Three weeks ago, I graduated from the School of International Service at American University. At the commencement ceremony, I had the honor of being one of the flag bearers on stage. Out of the options to carry the US flag, the DC flag, the AU flag, the SIS flag, or the alumni flag, I chose to carry the DC flag because that is where I am “local”:…/taiye_selasi_don_t_ask_where_i_m….

As an ATCK, I have always identified where I am local. Not where I am “from.” I was given the flag bearer opportunity because I was the Master candidate finalist to give the commencement speech. I first received the invitation from SIS to apply to be a commencement speaker when I was about to leave for Amsterdam in March. I was so busy with the conference I was attending and with travelling that I decided not to follow up with the offer. But then I got a personalized email that I had been selected to be a commencement speaker finalist so there I was on the train from Leiden to Utrecht, and then Utrecht to Rotterdam, and then from Rotterdam to The Hague writing and rewriting my commencement speech….I have a photo of doing that somewhere….because I found it so random.

Ultimately, SIS decided to only have one student commencement speaker (the undergraduate speaker) because we are the largest school at AU and there wasn’t enough time to have 2 student speakers. (Every other school at AU had two student commencement speakers).A few days ago, the official AU photography team emailed a photo of me carrying the DC flag. I look proud to be local here. But I have a feeling I’m not going to be local here for much longer….

Per the request of many who were curious about my speech, here it is:

School of International Service
American University
Commencement Speech 2016
Megan Norton; MA International Communication Candidate

Good evening President Kerwin, deans, members of the faculty, proud parents and families, and above all: graduates.

I have spent my life packing and unpacking boxes. I have lived in nine countries and five U.S. States. I have moved over 25 times. So you can imagine the boxes I’ve accumulated along the way; boxes from South Africa, Germany, Japan, Israel, Greece, Hungary….a lot of places. When I moved to DC, it was the first time that I had all of these boxes in one space and I started unpacking. I saw all the things I had identified with or that identified me. I was looking at not only tangible objects but also intangible ones. I was unpacking the values and beliefs and thought patterns that had shaped my worldview. In doing this I had feelings of displacement and I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. I felt the urge to pack up my boxes and to move again. Moving would be easier to do than confront the accompanying unease of trying to figure out what my identity was and who I wanted to become.

But I stayed. And I observed. And I learned that I wasn’t the only one unpacking my identity in the School of International Service. My classmates and I were reorganizing our ways of knowing and of being. We were recognizing our assumptions of not only each other but also of the world we operate in. I remember a moment in one of my classes when I shared that I was one of the students in the first integrated schools in post-apartheid South Africa. This ignited conversations immediately about race, power, and privilege. It was in moments like this that I saw my in between identity manifested in concrete new ways of belonging.

I became part of this multi-cultural community bound together by the shared commitment to accept that identity is fluid and complex. And I learned that SIS celebrates the power of seeing beyond identity boxes that so often imperfectly define us.

SIS integrates this message into its orientation toward service. As a form of service here at AU, I volunteered to be an intercultural dialogue facilitator. In facilitating cross-cultural communication between groups of both undergraduate and graduate students, I experienced the complexity of culture in new ways. One dialogue session stands out vividly. I had just landed at DCA from visiting family in another State and was headed to AU when I received a text message from a participant that said: “Can we talk about what just happened on campus?” What just happened on campus, I thought? And should I be going there? She was referring to Anti-Muslim fliers had been put around campus, but immediately reported and taken down. In our intergroup dialogue, we discussed how religion and faith are integral parts of our identity and we must be aware that sometimes people are forced to box it up and keep it hidden. I realized that I had never had to hide my faith for fear of physical safety. In our session we made space for stillness and for reflection. We were vulnerable and authentic with one another. In that moment we chose to understand rather than to simplify; and to acknowledge our agency to foster respect and tolerance.

When President Obama visited our campus last year, he spoke to this as well. He said: “Being an American is not a matter of blood or birth. It’s a matter of faith, of shared fidelity to the ideas and values that we hold so dear. That’s what makes us unique. That’s what makes us strong. Anybody can help us write the next great chapter in our history.”

President Obama’s reference to “anybody can help us” resonates with us graduates as we see the invisible boundaries that usually divide our world and have been trained to lean into the discomfort of stretching our comfort zones to understand how the interplay of culture, politics, race, and gender frame our behavior.

As SIS graduates, we are committed to celebrate cultural complexities and we are equipped to engage global challenges in our professional careers and future scholarship.

For all of us here today, we need to remember that as we move in and out and between social groups, we are making a difference in the world. It is our decision as to whether we are building boxes of fear and resistance or breaking down boxes with generosity and empathy.

Class of 2016: this is our commencement, our beginning. The beginning of new interactions, collaborations and intersectionalities of what constitutes shared identity. Perhaps you’re about to pack up your own boxes to move out of DC. Remember to take our culture of service, tolerance, and curiosity to navigate this increasingly interdependent world.

Trust in the Person You’re Becoming

May we enjoy the places of peace — the ones that give us peace and the places of peace we create.

Lake Michigan Sunset

I don’t know about for you, but ringing in 2021 for me was rather anticlimactic. Some of my friends and I had this plan to have a college reunion for New Year’s Eve 2020, but as the ripple of the COVID19 pandemic grew wider and stronger through the U.S. Midwest this season, we decided not to do it after all. For me, I celebrated the new year quietly and simply. With immediate family in the living room, it reminded me of my childhood new year’s eves when I would be so excited to stay up until midnight and as much as I tried to preserve my energy, I grew sleepier and sleepier as it got later and later. To be honest, not much changed with how I felt this New Years Eve. However, in addition to the steadfast nature of my inability to be a night owl, I also felt the same childlike liberty to feel protected, loved, cared for, and secure; feelings that at other times this year ebbed and flowed with challenges and changes.

I don’t know about you, but in 2020, I had more feelings of disorientation, displacement, and discouragement more than feelings of hope, purpose, and gratitude. Burnt out on the virtual and as I am still reeling from cancelled plans, parties, and participating in in-person programs, it’s a difficult year to reconcile. And I imagine we are all still feeling the ongoing waves of grief.

As I reflect on 2020, I want to remember the positives as well. Not each of those 365 2020 days were negative. These are the questions I’m reflecting on in the early days of 2021:

  • What was a good memory I made in 2020?
  • What progress did I make?
  • What is an affirmation I received?
  • What self-care routine worked? What didn’t?

And as I prepare for 2021, I’m concretely considering my choices. My choices to set boundaries, to create healthy rhythms, and to be ok to change what doesn’t work for me. And may I encourage you to be gentle with yourself and to (re)evaluate the expectations you set for you and others as we begin this new year.

One approach to do this is to consider and reflect on why you commit to the things you commit to, how you structure a routine, and where you can take small steps to meet the requirements of your work or school. This may look like deciding for you:

  • What and when are exceptions ok?
  • What questions can I ask for more clarity?
  • What does kindness look like for self and others?
  • What is one thing I can do today that’ll be good for my body, mind, and soul?

As we step into 2021, with its new changes, challenges, and celebrations, may we be empowered to respect our personal needs and to articulate graciously what we have time for and what we don’t have time for. It’s ok to say “no” and it’s ok to rest. It’s really important that we do both, actually.

One way I feel re-centered and grounded is in nature and what I’m finding living in West Michigan is that there are so many outrageously beautiful sunsets on Lake Michigan. I find so much peace and renewal when I have the opportunity to witness one of our sunsets. I’ve travelled a lot in my life (like 30 plus countries a lot) and have also lived in 10 countries. And I wholeheartedly believe that our sunsets are the best in the world. In 2021, I want to commit to taking more time to watch our lakeshore sunsets. When things I can’t control come my way, I can control my reaction and will probably go out to a pier to process and to protect my mind from “what ifs” and unexplainable “whys?!”. As each sunset is different, so is each day of our life. Let’s reflect on each one and prepare for each next one. May we enjoy the places of peace — the ones that give us peace and the places of peace we create.

Life is a series of trade offs and as we decide what to do in 2021, may we consider these questions every morning:

  • What is in my heart today?
  • What do I need to do today to feel healthy in body, mind, and soul?
  • What is one way to practice patience today?
  • What is the most important thing for me to do today?

Perhaps see you at sunset. Still socially-distanced, of course.

If You Were to Build a RAFT, What Would it Look Like?

The semester is wrapping up and for some, this may be the final one on campus. And so, it’s important to consider how to transition well. The popular “RAFT” model coined by David Pollock in the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, is one way to concretely decide how to move through this transition. The RAFT model is an acronym for Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewells, and Thinking Ahead.

A fancy word for a simple (albeit, sometimes difficult) action. In other words, is there anyone you need to go to one-on-one to apologize to, make things right with, hash out some misunderstandings? Stepping into a place where you can talk about conflict takes courage and vulnerability. It’s an important action to bring about understanding and forgiveness. Here are some steps to an apology as a framework to reference:

  1. Express sorrow (I’m sorry)
  2. Own guilt (I was wrong)
  3. Name the specific wrongdoings (I did ____________________)
  4. Name the impact (I hurt you)
  5. Don’t blame shift/defend (But you…I’m sorry if you…..)
  6. Don’t use passive voice (I’m sorry if you were offended….)
  7. Make amends (What can I do)

Another fancy word simply translated: let’s celebrate each other a little bit more! What do you love about someone? Their encouragement? Their detail-orientation? Their courage? Their timeliness? Their active volunteerism? Their jokes? Their availability to have a heart-to-heart sesh at 2am on a Tuesday? Take some time to reflect on how various people have invested in your life this semester and thank them for it! This is a beautiful way to demonstrate your love and to honor the people in your life. Some card-writing prompts could include:

  • One thing you did for me this semester that stands out is…….
  • One comment you made to me that really encouraged me was……..
  • Thank you for taking the time to….
  • It meant a lot to me that you….
  • Your ability to……
  • I deeply appreciate your…..


So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, goodbye! We TCKs are no stranger to this word. We’ve done this action and said a variation of this word (sometimes in multiple languages!) countless times. This year it may look a bit different on campus, though. With social distancing regulations in place and students leaving on different days, it’s important to make a list of who you want to see before you leave campus yourself. For Seniors especially, it’s important to say farewell to the places that have been significant to you on campus as well. Take some time to reflect on campus about how the places and people have encouraged you, challenged you, and shaped you into who you are today.

Thinking Ahead
It’s a hard ask this year with so much change and ambiguity. Thinking ahead may be daunting, discouraging, and even depleting. Protect your energy and thoughts as you think ahead.  Write out what you can control and the decisions you can make to set you up for success next semester. Don’t dwell on things you cannot control. 2021 may not be as clear as you want, but continue to give yourself permission to dream and to goal-set; and to name and own your desires — to claim them as gifts from God.

The Importance of Not Just the Facts Post Election 2020

I’ve never been one to either start or engage in political conversation; or to overly and overtly showcase my political perspectives and leanings. Growing up, I learned to “respect the office” no matter who sat in the Oval Office; a value rooted – I believe – from my military and Foreign Service household. And I tend to hold that value now into adulthood as I choose not to report on social media or in wider social circles my opinions about the person behind the desk in the Oval Office.

As a sociologist, I am drawn to the facts in election seasons; but, not the facts you’re probably thinking like the policy positions and debate material. I’m curious about the facts people vote on based on their values, which are full of nuances and shaped because of their worldview. The facts I consider include my believing that no election should contain the words “right” and “wrong” and that decisions cast don’t make us into “winners” and “losers.” The fact that in my travels I have seen candidate signage change from one state to another – and even house to house in neighborhoods, makes me wonder how many of the people who have placed these signs have had the courage to listen to those who placed the candidate sign of a different party. With the result of the 2020 election, it’s important to look at not just the facts of policy position or the person taking office; it’s important to look at how we are responding to the facts. Let’s consider the facts of emotion management as we embrace the reality of election facts. Emotion management is not using those facts to assume, accuse, or assault. Emotion management is using those facts to ask open ended questions – and to not be upset if it’s not what we consider the “right” answer. 

Emotion management is first and foremost taking emotions seriously. There have been “facts” thrown out this election season that some positions are based on “thought” and some are based on “emotion.” The fact is, it is not accurate to say: “I’m casting my vote this way because ‘I’m thinking’” and you’re making your decision because ‘You’re emotional.’” Our values, worldview, and choices are made up of both feelings and thoughts. We attend to our emotions because we care deeply about a particular position or decision, but we need to ensure that emotions don’t drive our conversations.

Emotion management is pausing to consider if a social media post or verbal response is evoking or suppressing emotions. Consider: you don’t need to have the last word, even if you are right. There are disagreements about position and policy and that’s ok — what’s not ok is when you don’t listen to where someone is coming from in their perspective and worldview. Asking questions as someone ready to understand – and not as someone armed to respond – is an act of kindness and of exercising emotion management.

Emotion management is identifying what information our emotions are giving us and not asking others to be responsible for them. All emotions are valid and are an important human mechanism in each of us to help give clues about what we need. Pause to understand the whys behind your values and where your perceptions have been shaped. Focus on the things you can control, starting with the intentionality of getting curious about another person’s perspective. Claim some relational land with yourself and with others as you look at the facts of why emotions are there and listen with deep grace and patience.

Emotion management is reminding yourself that, “Everyone has a story. Have the patience to listen. Have the wisdom to learn.” Engaging as a listener to both self and others as together we see and experience the implications of this election season takes patience and wisdom. Listening is initiated in asking questions and resisting the urge to “fix” feelings. Some will struggle with this more than others. Some will find peace sooner than others. Some will feel hurt and fear and as a result, that may come out as anger. Don’t let emotions drive your life in reactionary ways. You don’t need to react.

Emotion management is using facts to find potential common ground and to find those intersections of agreement. Emotion management is using those facts to exercise emotional intelligence and empathy. It’s not coming to the table saying, “change my mind.” It’s coming to the table to engage difference and asking, “can you explain to me why these facts are so important to you?” It’s coming into conversation without armor or case studies or a fixed mindset. Emotion management is developing a growth mindset and protecting your energy about what discussions you engage in.

As we enter into a season with ongoing political transition and conversation, ask yourself this question Arlie Hochschild poses in an On Being podcast, “Do you want to be right in every moment, or do you want to be part of the larger healing? …. [Be] models of repair.” Emotion management is a form of empowerment; it is leading with purpose and impact. As we are going to experience the spectrum of emotions this month, let’s not be ashamed of our own emotions or make others feel shame because of theirs. But ensure that your emotions don’t run the show and purpose now in your heart to take the power away from them. Reaction isn’t necessary. Phrases like, “I’m disappointed, but….” and “It’s hurtful that…..” and “I’m concerned that…..” can empower you to validate your feelings and not be consumed by them. Soothe any fear and hurt with what you can control and remember the principle that trusting in others is not blind obedience. Your reaching across political spectrums is not eliminating difference; it’s bridging. I may not reveal or discuss my political stance, but I will contribute to the larger story of what I can do by listening to others.

Take your emotions seriously. Take others’ emotions seriously and together “May we be people of peace with voices of hope doing the hard work of love.” We must not see difference as a threat; but an opportunity to find bridges.

I voted.

A Fall Reflection on Taking Care and Receiving Help

I read an article recently on that talked about how we’ve all exceeded our “surge capacity” this year. We feel like we are scraping the bottom of our reservoirs emotionally, mentally, and physically because of the trauma, uncertainty, and transitions 2020 has brought to each of us in real and heavy ways. It’s a lot. It’s been a lot. And it continues to be a lot. With the on start of the new school year, systematic reopening of businesses, and increased conversations about our political landscape, it seems like we’re still drudging through messy attempts to re-center and anchor ourselves to both self and others. In attempt to encourage you in a small way, I want to share a recent project I accomplished that grounded me in a renewed mindset of gratitude and grace for people, place, and ultimately myself.

I moved here more or less three years ago. It’s been a rocky transition in understanding and adapting to the culture and since I travel a lot for work, it hasn’t been the smoothest process to build community. Having lived in other parts of the country and of the world, my home is a sanctuary which reflects the beauty and uniqueness of other cultures I have integrated into my own. Since being here, I’ve had one ongoing side project of creating a yard signpost that would showcase outside of my home all of the places I’ve lived with different slats that capture the city name and how far it is from Whitehall.

I’ve shelved the project multiple times because I was unhappy about my hand lettering on each sign. My internal expectation was to have each one be perfectly uniform, and I was increasingly frustrated about how each rendering was coming out differently. But this summer I decided my enough was enough and my attempt at symmetry went as far as outlining with a pencil and using a smaller paint brush size to get better line accuracy. I finally finished the signage because I had reached a point that I knew my enough was going to be a gift to me. A lesson I’m carrying away this year and encourage you to do as well is that your enough is enough. Sometimes your expectations for self is just that: for yourself. Others will appreciate and value your energy, effort, and “enough.”

Next came the part of hoisting the two long signage beams into the ground. I had no idea what I was doing. Dig a whole with a shovel? A spade? We were having some work done on our house and we asked the builder to take a look at the project idea. He had a machine that drilled the beam holes in less than a minute. The poles were vertically secure in minutes and he also used a nail gun that hung the signs even quicker. I was amazed at these tools. I was even more amazed that he and his teenage son taught me how to use this nail gun to hang the majority of my city signs. My lesson that day was to receive help gracefully. I am so impressed about the skills these two builders demonstrated and that they took the time to teach me a little about their trade. The lesson I encourage you to consider is what skills can you invest in others during the remainder of this year? No matter your age, you’ve got skills to share.

Finally, I had to express gratitude for those who have helped me with this project, namely: my Grandpa. He was the one who took me to Menards three years ago to pick out wood for this project and he cut the signposts in his wood shop. These signposts are a reflection of his investment of time, talent, precision, and energy into my life. Also, special thanks to my Dad who researched where to buy lumber and bought the wood beams in addition to new paint this year. And lastly to our builder and his son who went the extra mile to help me complete this project. The lesson I take away is that you need community to accomplish your goals and to support you in your vision — whatever it is.

Three years ago, I wouldn’t have had either the tools or the people to help finish this project. It’s taken time and my reevaluation of what’s enough and my community here to finish it. I’ve learned that living in a still-new-to-me place during a pandemic period with people who love you for showing up with your ‘enough’ is wildly weird and yet incredibly rewarding. Sometimes it’s difficult to ask for help, but receive it when it comes unexpectantly along. This is how we will refill our capacities this year. Take good care of yourself and of others in your neighborhood. We’re here for each other.