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 medium.com 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.

Finding where you belong: Community on Campus

A new academic year is full of so much newness in all areas of life. When I was at university, my favorite part of a new academic year was selecting my new class schedule which in turn shaped my new rhythm of life to settle into. With this newness came the negotiation of which student club events I had time to attend and what leadership roles I could commit to. In addition, there was the immediate schedule comparison with friends and classmates to see where our free time overlapped. Sometimes there was perfect synchronicity and other times there was calendar blocking of “let’s do dinners on Tuesday’s and lunches on Friday’s.” The variation in schedules meant that there was opportunity to discover new pockets of communities on and around campus and to explore how – or if – I belonged in and to them.

Community on campus can feel like a bubble in certain respects. There can be pride in institution affiliation and who you share your time, talent, and passion with which increases the multiple ties of commonality with campus culture and its community make up. Whether it’s classes, meals, clubs, activities, sports, or leadership opportunities, university life is a unique time to be a part of different communities in one central location.

This year, with all the newness of different campus procedures and social gathering protocol, it may feel like there are restrictions to developing authentic and sustainable community. For example, some universities are requiring students to select 30-minute meal time windows or do carry-out meals, thus limiting the opportunity to connect with friends over a shared meal in the cafeteria. Also, residence halls are implementing new rules about guests in dorm rooms and evening curfews, thus limiting opportunities to study or to socialize with others in person. Additionally, student leaders are looking for new ways to do virtual meet ups instead of on-campus ones. With these changes, students may question how to connect with their communities in authentic and trustworthy ways. Three foundations of community formation can help students develop a strong sense of belonging to and with one another both on and off campus.

Here I speak directly to you, students:

Community formation and sustainability takes intentionality.

Whether in-person or online with others, be authentic about who you are and who you want to be. Otherwise, it’ll feel like you’re performing and you won’t feel wholly connected to either yourself or to others. Your level of belonging is in direct relation to showing up and being vulnerable. Brene Brown highlights this in her books, saying that that if you want to create connection and develop purposeful belonging, you need to listen as intently as you want to be heard. Active listening is one way to purposefully hear and appreciate what others are choosing to share with you and you need to first be connected with your own emotions and body in order to listen well. In this cultural moment, it seems social media can be where you share and/or find resources, yell at and/or encourage people, and find and/or leave a niche group you identify with that transcends location. Being intentional about the (mis)use of social media is important to consider how you claim community and/or it claims you.

Particularly for Third Culture Kids, it is important to activate the same level of curiosity and intentionality to connect with others as was practiced when living in another country. For example, when I was at university, I had to check my intentions for sharing one of my global stories with others: was it to brag about my experiences while living abroad or was it to connect with others and to their stories. Intentionally reflecting on purpose and pride in relationships can grow trust, dependability, and understanding.

Community formation and sustainability means holding something in common.

Having a sense of belonging lies on a spectrum and considering how you construct community will play into where you think you belong and/or don’t belong. All of us are human beings, and with that we all operate out of a foundation of similarity. As we move along the spectrum to being an individual person, we splinter off into different affiliations and affinity groups based on what we have in common with them. While community and sense of belonging can be based on cultural, racial, familial, etc. markers or qualifiers, it is important to acknowledge that these markers can be “hidden” and not known until conversations, history, skills, passion, and proximity are observed, learned, and taken into consideration. Furthermore, being aware of how social media can operate as a counterfeit community in the way it can fragment social support and disconnect or misdirect people from reality is important to remember when discussing sensitive or potentially polarizing topics.

For some Third Culture Kids, there can be a strong sense of being an outsider on campus, especially if they don’t understand specific cultural aspects or cultural values and expressions. For example, I wore a particular sports team logo on my clothes because my family had gifted these particular t-shirts to me. I didn’t realize how polarizing it was to wear them in some local communities. While I was feeling connected to my family in wearing them, I was creating playful division in my friend group. Cultural commonality takes social wisdom and learning. Being curious about culture helps TCKs to change the perspective of “I’m a TCK, no one is like me” to “I’m a person with multi-faceted interests, skills, experiences, and passions, so who can I connect with on one or more of those factors in this place?”

Community formation and sustainability is shaped by shared memories.

Your sense of belonging can be forgotten, but it cannot be lost. Reminding one another of previous times shared in laughter, service, or with entertainment can be significant to reinforce unity and commonality. This foundation can be found and highlighted on social media and in other virtual spaces. Circulating these memories can be especially important this year to remind one another of time invested in events, service opportunities, and passions. Online relationships can be valuable and important through different online mediums, and being aware of how memories and current experiences are curated and displayed should be analyzed in terms of outcome and impact on in-person relationships. Are they useful for connecting or are they creating division? Online communities and different channels are not meant to be individuals’ only way to have relationships and build community.

With Third Culture Kids, sharing memories about previous homes and places can be confirmation that they belong to several communities which have given them a sense of who they are and continue to shape their perspectives. When I was at university, I read through the news of places I used to live in and was wondering how those events were impacting my communities there. One of my mentors encouraged me to also read about local news and to learn how to become more involved in my local community off my university campus. While I had memories from places I had lived, I knew it was time to invest in my current community to create new memories. Community building takes commitment to confront yourself and others and to move through conflict and to celebrate commonality.

In sum, belonging in and to a community takes time as you develop the skills to acknowledge and lean into the love, limits, and leveling of opinions, experiences, and perspectives. Whether virtual or in-person, building community takes more time and more care than you expect. But it’s worth it.

Assuming good intent, remaining curious, and being kind are guiding principles as we consider the foundations of community.

Re-Entry Tips for TCK Teens

Third Culture Kid teens are resilient, resourceful, clever, creative, and flexible. For their entire lives they have not only practiced but also excelled at adapting to new cultural situations and learning new ways of being and of doing. This year in particular they have been challenged to draw upon these strengths in new and important ways as the world continues to navigate the ambiguity and adjustments of new protocol and procedures in all arenas—work, academic, social, and commerce. 

For high school third culture kids transitioning back to their passport country this year it can be challenging in several areas—from learning how to socialize virtually to following new social cues and customs. Whether transitioning into university, high school, or a gap year, these third culture kids can equip themselves to process emotions, create friendships, and figure out next steps in acknowledging these three steps.

PROCESS THE GRIEF IN THIS YEAR’S UNIQUE TRANSITIONS

In times of distress, trauma, and grief, it is a human default mechanism to go into “flight or fight” mode. Flight can look like avoidance, mood swings, and apathy; fight can look like confrontations, frequent arguments, and anger outbursts. In order to process these emotions in a healthy way, it can be helpful for third culture kid teens to share their re-entry story with a family friend or mentor that has either been through this kind of transition themselves and/or are processing it together in a facilitated manner. 

To process the 2020 grief is to acknowledge both the tangible and intangible losses: perhaps it was not being able to go to an in-person graduation, or to throw or attend a graduation party. Maybe it was not being able to travel one last time with friends on a class trip or being able to say goodbye to families who weren’t able to return to the country due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Maybe it wasn’t being able to take one last favorite hike to see the sunset or to go to the airport to send off a friend. 


twitter2.png

“IT CAN BE HELPFUL FOR THIRD CULTURE KID TEENS TO SHARE THEIR RE-ENTRY STORY WITH A FAMILY FRIEND OR MENTOR THAT HAS EITHER BEEN THROUGH THIS KIND OF TRANSITION THEMSELVES AND/OR ARE PROCESSING IT TOGETHER IN A FACILITATED MANNER.”


In order for third culture kid teens to heal from their grief, invite them to articulate what they have lost and let them express how that makes them feel. Recognize that the expression may come out in one of the grief cycle stages such as bargaining (for example, “maybe next year we can go back and see everyone again”) or it may come out as negotiation (for example, “if I stay here one year, next year I’ll have enough money to return”) or it may come out in anger (for example, not feeling content about the current situation) or denial (for example, thinking that there won’t be culture shock because they understand the culture from social media). In order to reach the stage of acceptance, allow the third culture kid teen to express their grief by journaling, talking through it, or creating something that represents their grief. In and through this, affirm their resilience and draw upon their strengths in how they have transitioned before and have the ability to do it again in this season.

PRACTICE ANSWERING, “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?”—KEEPING IN MIND CULTURAL CONTEXT

For any third culture kid, it can be a challenge to answer the question “Where are you from?” given “home” and “from” could potentially mean any of the following: Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What is your passport country or nationality? What is the last place you lived? Where are your parents? Where did you graduate? 

Given that many families have been forced to repatriate to new places this year due to COVID-19 border closures, this question could be an added challenge for third culture kid teens to answer as they may have had several disruptions of place and belonging in the past few months. Keeping in mind cultural context and who is asking the question, third culture kid teens may want to give a “5 second” response to “Where are you from?” such as, “Due to my parent’s work, I have lived most of my life in __________, but am originally from ___________” or “I grew up in several countries, but most recently moved from ___________.” 

If the situation allows for more discussion, it may be that the inquirer will ask further about what took the third culture kid abroad or which place they loved the most. Having short responses can allow the conversation to continue, however, third culture kid teens should ask the same questions in return. Perhaps they will have the most “exotic” background in terms of countries lived, languages spoken, and cultures experienced, but third culture kids need to exercise the same level of curiosity and respect for others’ stories as well. Again, finding community members who have had a similar upbringing can provide space to tell stories without the third culture kid teen fearing that they are “bragging” or not feeling understood by monocultural peers.

PREPARE FOR WHAT’S NEXT THIS YEAR

Whether the third culture kid teen has returned for university, high school, or a gap year, it’s important for them to recognize their need to adjust to new responsibilities. Life will be different in terms of socialization, communication expectations, and financial goals. This is the case for everyone this year as COVID-19 has determined new rules for social gathering, created new forms of virtual communication and expression, and brought about different financial concerns. 


twitter2.png

“AS THE WORLD CONTINUES TO NAVIGATE THESE CHANGES, IT IS CRITICAL FOR THIRD CULTURE KID TEENS TO HAVE THE SUPPORT, GUIDANCE, AND MENTORSHIP SURROUNDING THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES WITH THESE CHANGES.”


As the world continues to navigate these changes, it is critical for third culture kid teens to have the support, guidance, and mentorship surrounding their responsibilities with these changes. Making a list of what is needed for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual support and identifying who can help support these needs is an important way to holistically care for the wellbeing and nurturing of a third culture kid teen. Recognizing and recommending to third culture kid teens who in their network (such as church leaders, community peers, family, and friends) can serve as mentors and confidants as they process closing out a chapter in their life and transition the navigation into a new one is important for them to feel agency in their need for independence and personal growth. Establishing a “cultural broker”—someone who understands where they have come from and where they are headed—to guide them about the new environment’s food, fashion, music, slang, etc., is a foundational way to support this transition. Lastly, cultivating a practice of gratitude can also serve as an anchor of stability to help third culture kid teens to identify and appreciate the blessings in their life.

There are several organizations that offer facilitated debriefing through this transition such as Interaction International’s Wayfinder program beginning in Fall 2020 and MuKappa International’s virtual university chapter for incoming university freshmen in addition to their on-campus university student chapters. These organizations can suggest third culture kid mentors and cultural guides for third culture kid teens to speak with. 

This year has been challenging and unpredictable, full of grief and loss due to physical moves, health declines, and even deaths. It’s been one that has highlighted race relations and reconciliation initiatives, political unrest, and diverse civil discourse. For third culture kid teens who are navigating their own wild and ambiguous transitions, the weight and rate of change and media noise can exacerbate the reentry process and perhaps even numb the important journey of healing from their own grief and loss. By regulating media intake, committing to healthy nutrition, talking with a cultural mentor, and practicing their tried and true resilience methods, third culture kid teens will be able to adjust to their new home in 2020.

5 Questions to Ask (again) to your University-Aged Third Culture Kid (and the 1 to Ask as a Follow-Up to Each One)

They are grown and flown. But you will always be their parent/s. They have dabbled in decision-making and perhaps learned the consequences of some of those poorer life choices in their independent decisions. But this is a unique time and they may need a little extra guidance, financial support, and an active listening ear more than ever before in their “gone from the nest” adult status. Despite your being time zones away or in the other room, reach out to them. They are adults now, but they need you to play parent in this COVID-19 season more than you realize.

But as an important caveat before you read further. As their parent/s, hold yourself accountable for the safety, intention, and respect you are offering and exchanging with asking these questions. If you are not committed to the responsibility of creating psychological safety and trust between you and your child, and if you are not willing to make sacrifices to meet their needs, this article is not for you right now.

  1. Are you ok?

I remember whenever I had some “heavy” or potentially disappointing news to share with my mom over the phone, instead of her blaming or shaming me with words like “You should have studied harder” or “Why didn’t you go to office hours for help?” or “Did you really need to be out that late?” it was “Are you OK?” or “How do you feel?” She created a space to honor me as a human being rather than prioritize my role as a university student. And there was never an expectation for me to answer this question. If “fine” was my reply, then “fine” with her. She always had another way to get me to reveal my feelings anyhow. In that she probed gently with questions. And listened. She listened and didn’t lecture.

Whether your university-aged TCK is with you in person or if you are calling them in another time zone, ask this question. Even if they are a strong-willed, independent, fiercely report-facts-only young adult, they need to hear this question from you. Even if you didn’t have a family culture of discussing feelings while they were growing up, ask this question. Even if you’re not ok, ask them this question. Even if they don’t answer right away, trust that these three words frame the conversation in a way that they’ll know you’re there for them.

(and the 1 You Ask as a Follow-Up: What can I do?) In a season where there have been broken commitments because of lockdown and event cancelations, perhaps real or perceived mistrust between relationships, and maybe even some poor decision making on the part of your university-aged child (I mean the human brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25), your young adult child/ren need to know that they can count on you to play witness to their grief and hold space for their emotions. Keep asking. Keep waiting. Maybe it is in the asking and in the waiting that you are meeting their need of feeling heard and safe and known. And that will help them to be ok

2. Do you have enough money?

In emerging adulthood, the lessons in financial independence can be at times awkward and trying. Especially for TCKs who didn’t have the opportunity to manage their money as teens in the countries in which they grew up. Personally speaking, with currency exchange rates trying my math skills and credit card fees, the inconsistency of managing multiple currencies contributed to my not having a solid grasp on the value of money. This was (and still is) a growing pain when I try to stick to an “adult” budget. My “self-care” money column in my budget also seems a bit fatter than my “contribute more to the utilities” one. I can always justify it, too. With the added transitions of this season in moving out of residence halls or losing part-time student / service-sector jobs, many university-aged students are feeling the save/spend tension. I would not be offended if my parents asked me this question (and I’m not a university-aged student anymore). And so, particularly in this season, I don’t think yours will be either. 

This can be a telling question to ascertain your child’s access to essential resources, food stock, and self-care pleasantries. One way to gift them in this season is to call one of their local restaurants to order take-out for them. Even better: pay for the delivery of it to their house. Another way is to order some household essentials online to have it delivered to them. One other way is to get in touch with one of their community members to ask if they could check-in on them for you. If you can’t make your TCK a home-made meal, maybe you can ask one of their friends/community members to.

(and the 1 You Ask as a Follow-Up: What can I do?) Even if you don’t have the financial capability (or means) to Venmo, Paypal, Zelle, or direct deposit a double-digit figure to your child, I argue that any amount would be a fun and welcomed surprise. Frame the giving as an opportunity for them to buy a book or rent a movie or UberEATS a meal. Just do it.

3. Where are you spending the summer?

Be prepared not to be offended if it’s not with you. Or a relative. Or a trusted friend or community member. Be prepared to say, “tell me more.” As your child has developed connections with roommates, classmates, neighbors, etc., they have certainly come across unique opportunities to apply their knowledge, skills, and talents in some initiative, project, camp, start-up, internship, etc. this summer. Now more than ever, your child is networking to figure out what the summer looks like. And hey, if it is that they want to spend their summer on your couch, then kudos to that as well! Let them come “home.”

This question may also be important to extend into “the Fall.” Make sure your TCK university student knows if their campus will reopen for the Fall semester. If it isn’t, begin to think through where your child will stay. Think through if your child needs extra cash, a new laptop, and/or a visa for wherever they’re planning to be in the Fall.

(and the 1 You Ask as a Follow-Up: What can I do?) Do you have ideas about how your child can spend their summer near you? Do you have a contact they can reach out to to secure a summer job? Leave it in their court to connect. Are you in another country? Ensure that travel bans won’t inhibit the ability for your child to travel to you. In asking these questions, you are getting a fuller picture of what your child is dreaming about for their future and considering how you can come alongside to support it.

4. Who are you talking with these days?

This is a very open-ended question. It could lead to revealing they’re in touch with their professors, college advisor, former roommates, and friends. It could even be what the gen-z-ers are framing as “plot twist” relationships – also more commonly known as “significant others.” Who may be contributing to their attitudes, impressions, and perspectives of this time?

This question could also be an indicator about their daily routines. Are they maintaining communication with people across time zones? If so, it may mean they have a choppy sleep schedule. Are they sitting in front of Zoom all day? It could mean that they are not getting enough physical exercise. Are they missing their friends? Encourage them to write them an actual hand-written letter to them.

(and the 1 You Ask as a Follow-Up: What can I do?) This is really asking yourself if you think there are people your child could do informational interviews with. Help them to make those connections. This can lean into understanding more deeply how they are dealing with this season both emotionally and physically. Do they have peer social support and accountability? This is an indicator about how they are managing their relationships from campus. Gently encourage them to maintain them.

5. What transition does this remind you of?

This question goes into reminiscing about how you have navigated as a family in other circumstances that required a “quick release” from place, people, and/or purpose. Without the ability to practice the RAFT (reconciliation, affirmation, farewell, think destination) model in action, you and your TCK are uniquely equipped to navigate this season with added empathy and understanding because you have navigated transitions without enacting RAFT before. You may not realize how pro you are at maintaining relationships across time, space, and distance compared to your mono-place/mono-cultural peers and community. As expats, there have been variations of “social distancing” when your globally mobile community has changed frequently. It may be interesting to reminisce about these instances with your TCK university student.

Perhaps your TCK university student will be able to help their roommates, classmates, and greater campus community to heal from the unsaid goodbyes and unframed closure, to move on with new and relevant connection opportunities, and to look to the future with hope and purpose. Your TCK has gone through multiple transitions before and is navigating it now with grit and grace. Encourage them to model this leadership to their peers who are struggling with all this transition.

(and the 1 You Ask as a Follow-Up: What can I do?) This may be a triggering question. If you as a family had some choppy transitions, it may unearth some trauma or unresolved grief from a previous situation. Ask this question if you are emotionally, mentally, and even financially equipped to provide support for your TCK college student navigating through this season. It’s a time of radical transition on multiple levels, so be prepared to have a support network to come along beside you in hearing their answer to this question.

As your TCK university student is “adulting” in new and often time challenging ways, it can be helpful for them to hear how you are navigating this season. Comments like “I’m struggling this way” or “I came across this helpful/funny/informative/etc article” or “is it ok to …..” can ease your young adult’s concerns if they are “adulting” wisely. Continue to be their parent/s in your vulnerability, authenticity, care, and love.

“All of these are invitation questions”

All of these are invitation questions. Questions for dialogue and that will assess the trust and safety you have with one another. What are the psychological consequences if you don’t show up for your TCK university-aged child during this time? Put aside your fears and insecurities to lean into the (dis)comfort of developing an adult-like relationship with your child. Take the pressure off yourself to “fix” or to “lead” the relationship with your child; rather, lean into the role to be a guide on the side, to connect, and to validate feelings. It’s a tension of independence and dependence but create and nurture the mindset shift that you are still needed and wanted. Even if your young adult child doesn’t engage with you in these questions, saying “I love you and I am proud of you” is the starting and ending point they need today and always.

COVID-19 Values Exposed : How Living Through this COVID-19 Season is Similar to the Feels of Loss and Gains in Having Lived a Life Overseas

I grew up overseas in multiple countries. And as an adult I have lived in several more in addition to five U.S. States. The total country count where I’ve called “home” over the past thirty years is now 10. Over the past two years as an independent intercultural consultant, I have lived part-time in Muskegon county in Michigan while travelling for work and vacation the remainder of the year. Now, with the COVID-19 season, all my work travel is cancelled because all appointments are postponed and all my vacation plans are non-existent. I’m happy I got to California in January and Florida in February and Massachusetts in March. It’s been an interesting transition for me to consider the indefinite amount of time I’ll actually be at “home” here in Michigan. At first, the feeling was one of limitation, but as I shifted my perspective to more deeply understand this community, I have begun to see the culture of it better and how it is shaped by certain values. I’d love to share them from my multicultural, multi-”home” perspective.

Loss of Connection is also a Gain of New Ways to Connect

It can seem paradoxical. We can’t gather together in person and yet my social calendar seems to be fuller. My phone buzzes with texts and I’ve discovered how annoying my current ring tone is. The “Google Hangout” and Zoom call invites populate my inboxes. While I do strongly believe that in-person face-to-face socialization and business meetings are the best for relationship building and clear communication, it is equally important to note that connection, care, and empathy can be extended and received through a screen.

If I may encourage you to continue to check in with your community. Even if that means through online means. This COVID-19 season reminds me of when I was growing up overseas the option to sustain relationships across time, space, and distance only became possible in my teens because of the new and ever-improving and more affordable virtual communication platforms. These new modes of communication made the “goodbyes” a little less bitter. Also, I’m rediscovering the art of handwriting letters. A piece of snail mail can fill the need for touch or demonstrate the investment of time with the thought of this way to demonstrate love.

In relation to my local community, I am finding that individualism – a value that shapes U.S. American culture with work and with socialization – is shifting along the spectrum to more of a collectivist nature. This looks like asking the nuclear family, neighbors, elderly community members, and other acquaintances like gym buddies, church members who sit across the aisle, and store clerks and cashiers how we can be more mindful of their needs to serve them better. We can and should value unity during this time. We can and should value connection over comfort or what we may have previously deemed as “inconvenient”. When is the last time we went across the street with a homemade baked good? Even six weeks ago we wouldn’t have necessarily noticed who we interact with in a store or who lives on our street. We’re challenged to connect in new ways.

Loss of Work and School Rhythms is also a Gain of Exploring Your Own Backyard for Breaks and Recess

It can seem like a calendar-less year. Or that we are living in Groundhog’s Day. I’ve heard it and seen it from colleagues and community posts: “What day is it? I’ve lost track.” We’re operating on new schedules, establishing new routines and navigating different household rhythms. Living, working, playing, and sleeping within the same four walls can begin to feel like they are creeping in on our sanity. But the directive of lockdown doesn’t restrict us from our own backyards or taking a walk around the block. It can be a time to get acquainted with your surroundings – as micro as your front porch to as macro as the hiking trail in the next county.

In my experience growing up overseas, I never knew what our house would look like in the country to which we were moving, let alone if we would have a yard. Unlike some companies that provide families (or at least the principal worker and accompanying partner) to do a “go see” visit to check out a new home assignment, we experienced the “you’ll get what we have available and will have the ‘welcome kit’ (sheets, pans, pots, etc.) in it when you arrive” treatment in the diplomatic corps. I remember checking out every corner of our new house and how each family member would begin to “nest” in different areas of it.

I find myself these days hanging pictures on the walls I’ve never gotten around to doing in my sporadic travel. I’m taking walks in the neighborhood and discovering how very unique each yard is. Growing up abroad, our houses were typically behind walls and so I’m discovering the “openness” of a typical U.S. American neighborhood. I love seeing the yard landscape creativity and the freedom people have in choosing paint colors and exterior decorations. The values and privilege of space, privacy, and difference shape our American culture in the way we pride ourselves on how we maintain our properties. 

How we value public space is also observable in keeping our parks clean and accessible during this time. How fortunate I am to live in an area that has space to discover while keeping social distancing directives. Be mindful about how unhurried time can be a gift to you and your family in making memories during “break time.”

Loss of Mobility is also the a Gain of Perspective-Change

It can seem like a time of loss of freedom and independence; two values that shape U.S. culture in the way we value entertainment and travel. The ability to go where you want to go when you want to go for as long as you want to go is a freedom we celebrate and the absence of it can be disorienting. The loss of mobility has been disorienting for me in the way I’ve built my career to be “office-free.” Now, my home is my office.

This COVID-19 season reminds me of two different times I lived overseas as an adult and felt the restrictions of travel. One time was when I was a postgraduate student in Greece and having completed my master degree there at the American College of Greece, I was seeking employment in the country. But, because my visa was a student one and not a work one, I was not able to stay there. The second scenario was similar. I was working in Hungary and needed to make the choice to renew my teaching contract or to return to the U.S. Again, not renewing the working visa meant I would need to repatriate. It was a challenging decision at the time and I felt restricted because of my U.S. citizenship. But, I ultimately decided to return to the US to pursue other opportunities. In both of these scenarios I could focus on either being bitter about having to leave the country I was calling “home” because of government regulations or I could celebrate the time I had left and the memories and relationships I would also have in repatriating to the U.S. I find myself in a similar situation now: am I angry that I can’t travel or am I grateful for this time to explore my local surroundings and home.

I’m not stuck at home. I’m safe at home and you’re not stuck at home, you’re safe at home. Let’s expose that truth and claim it.

Loss of Understanding the COVID-19 Source is also a Gain for Us to Unify as a Human Race

It can seem like a blame-shifting game. At several levels, we see news reports of casting blame on world leaders, country leaders, State leaders, and even county leaders about their decisions and retractions about how to keep communities safe. We see reports of the worst side of humanity with racist remarks and we see reports of the best side of humanity with acts of service. 

Growing up overseas, I was sometimes in environments and situations that I was the only U.S. citizen in the group. I’ve had the “power” placed on me to be “The Spokesperson” for all of the United States. Imagine, this was when I was 12 years old. Questions and statements directed at me like, “Why is American policy this?” “Why do Americans do x, y, z?” “It’s disgusting that Americans act this way…” created this weight I carried as a mini diplomat at times that I didn’t know how to not internalize or process well as a child. The impression that I was a voice for all of America considering I was the only U.S. citizen in a particular group is quite humorous to me now considering I hadn’t grown up in America, and thus, how could I ever respond accurately.

I find we can learn from this situation in that we can’t cast blame or make assumptions or speak ill about people during this time based on physical appearances or passport origin. We have a duty to protect one another and to lean in to understand one another better, listen more, and mitigate fear, not create it. I’m specifically alluding here to the focus on anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiments that come from the myth that COVID-19 is a Chinese virus.

Do your part in your community to make lasting positive change. Do your part to consider if it’s kind or not to wipe the grocery store aisle clean of every canned good or TP. Our U.S. individualist value needs to be broadened to protecting self means protecting others and protecting others means protecting self. Be aware of how you talk to your family, friends, and larger community about this virus. Be mindful to spread facts, not fear. We’re in this together.

Published on April 3, 2020 on Thrive Global

Walk 10 Thousand Steps and Then Perhaps 1,000 More.

Empathy is not sympathy. It’s not agreement with a person’s situation or even saying “I know how you feel.” Empathy and the hope that we can serve one another and be present for each other are actions we need now more than ever in our countries, communities, and homes. It’s creating the safe space to ask, “What do you need?” And if that is silence, let it be silence. Don’t ask this question if you’re not prepared to walk 10 Thousand Steps in their shoes and allow them to share their needs, emotions, struggles, celebrations, and journey — this is empathy.

Before you begin to compare your situation to others or “rate” it against others, or even enter into a “competition” of who is “worse off” in this season, maybe broaden your perspective to understand that there are layers of effects in this transition time to each of our lives. We are all in transition. Be kind. Be gentle. Be hope-full. And may I expose some “privilege” in how you’re griping about toilet paper. And that the beaches are closed.

Walk ten thousand steps in another person’s shoes, and then perhaps 1,000 more. We are in this together.

My Hope 4/1/2020

During this time the feeling of hope can feel like it’s in shifting sands. I walked on the West Michigan sand dunes today, paving the word “hope” in one level spot. It struck me as I was carving out this four letter word that any preposition you put with it it can capture where someone is with it in this season: looking after hope, beside hope, beyond hope, between hope, dwelling in hope, among hope, walking through hope, inside hope, loving because of hope, around hope-full people, holding onto hope, out of hope, desperate before hope, without hope…

It sometimes can feel we have access to it, sometimes we feel we’re ten thousand steps away from it. Walking today ten thousand literal steps to shape this word in shifting sands meant I had to dig in, repeat steps, follow my path again and again. I got lost in it. I even became hope-less at one point in the process thinking what’s the point – do I believe this word right now?

And yet I knew I had to leave the area to see the hope creation. I had to walk 10 thousand steps and one thousand more to gain perspective of it. Let me expose my privilege of time today to find hope in the shifting sands.

Let me tell you who I had immense empathy for and said a hopeful prayer for:

For the woman behind the scenes in the hospital working in the nurses’ staffing office, coordinating time tables, deciding who will move to different floors, and who will attend to Coronavirus candidates. You are seen. I see you. You are a part of this fight. You are supporting the Front Lines. You hear the exhaustion on the other end of the line: the nurses who have worked a shift and they need to work another. Your patience and empathy makes a difference in your kind and supportive words. You’re walking a thousand steps with them. Continue on with them in hope. They may lash out in your ear out of frustration and pain. Continue on with your kind words. They need your kind words. I’m talking to you, Mom.

For the man behind the scenes setting up emergency communications and coordinating with FEMA to deliver more supplies to the hospitals. You are seen. I see you. You are a part of this fight. You are supporting the Front Lines. You hear the exhaustion of those in this office coordinating with response teams and funeral home teams. Your patience and your training others makes a difference. You’re walking a thousand steps with them. Continue on with them in hope that the operations you’re putting in place will mitigate fear and provide clarity to those involved in funeral preparations. I’m talking to you, Dad.

For the Amazon manager working behind the scenes to keep the station team morale high. Your 18 hour days on the warehouse floor coordinating social distance and combining new delivery routes and communicating with other stations from your bedroom floor when you get home: you keep advocating for your team. Your patience and your commitment to maintaining supply chains makes a difference. You’re walking a thousand steps with others. Continue on with them in hope. (And can I expose the privilege of America: to the person at home contemplating buying that toy for your kid or a new book for yourself and complaining about delayed shipment: that toy is going to be in the Fall yard sale. Look at your shelf for an unread book. Ask your neighbor to borrow one of theirs. Just stop complaining about how slow shipment is. Be content and creative with what you have). Be exposed to those who are working to get you your “needs.” I’m talking about my Brother – the one who asked me “how can I help you” after a 90 hour week.

Walk a thousand miles in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes that journey will show you some of the unsung heroes behind the scenes in this COVID-19 war. They’re important to expose, too.

I walked in between and around and at the ends of my literal and figurative hope this evening. On shifting sands no less that proved to be quite accurate in how my hope feels these days. But what was helpful was stepping away to gain perspective. Stepping away to see my hope.

Stepping Away to See My Hope

Stepping away to see the sun set on it. Hopeful that the sun will shine on it tomorrow. Knowing that my hope isn’t meant to stay in this form forever; but rather, to be built up, re-shaped, and found in stories of empathy, fierce compassion, and behind-the-scenes heroic acts of kindness. We’re in this together. Expose that.

Good Grief

Good Grief: this was a piece I had published last month in a newspaper in Michigan. Rooting in place and in people has been on my mind and heart this season of my life:

Home for Christmas? I am. But also, in My Dreams.

The iconic “I’ll be home for Christmas” song during this season can sometimes ignite polarizing feelings for listeners. A song that is meant to convey the love, warmth, and safety of home can also procure feelings of sadness, loneliness, and grief – for several different reasons. I am one of those people who experiences “all the feels” when I hear this song.

“Home” is a complex and nuanced word, feeling, and place for me. This year, home is Whitehall, Michigan and indeed, I’ll be here for Christmas. But in my heart I have memories of other homes during this season and in my house, I hold treasures from Christmases past. My previous homes include nine other countries and four other U.S. States. Knowing that I’ll never be in those homes again for the holidays brings a mixed bag of emotions, but I value the time I had living there and creating memories. The ornaments hanging on my Christmas tree tell stories of the Christmases overseas: from European Christmas market painted glass globes to colorfully beaded South African ones, this collection of sacred objects represent the joy, love and peace of Christmases past.

Growing up as a U.S. State Department dependent meant that home was “assigned” to our family every three years. From South Korea to Germany, and from Japan to Israel, the Christmas season was always celebrated with global friends and family and with different local traditions. I recall in Israel we celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas! And when I played Mary in the church play, I simply went to the Jerusalem market and got myself a robe that probably looked similar to what she wore – minus the extra material for a baby bump. In Korea, my brother and I performed in our school’s choir at the U.S. Embassy for the diplomats and also downtown in the Hilton hotel for holiday travelers and tourists. In South Africa, we took an afternoon swim in our pool after the BBQ lunch with friends on the patio.

In and through these global moves we also developed family traditions that remained steadfast regardless of country or climate or cultural context. In Japan, my mom bought an advent calendar at a handmade craft Christmas market that has hung in every one of our houses during this season. I enjoy decorating the calendar’s living room scene with the holiday-specific Velcro décor pieces for each day. I remember that even when I came home from university (to Vienna, Austria), this cloth advent calendar would be hung but none of the Velcro pieces were placed on it. Even if it was December 19, mom waited to let me hang each piece where I wanted them! We’ve lost one of the pieces through our moves; it just means the milk and cookies plush piece gets put out December 23 instead of December 24.

My favorite family holiday tradition centers on our Christmas stockings. Over thirty years ago, Mom bought four red felt stockings and with a sharpie wrote “Dad,” “Mom,” “Michael” and “Megan” respectively on each one. Now, with faded names and some gaping holes in them, we each take ours on December 25 morning and open the gifts inside them. Typically, there is an orange and banana in each one. But the Whitman’s chocolate gets eaten first.

This is our fourth Christmas in Michigan. This year, we’ve put the Christmas tree in a more central room in the house. I think we all like it in here. We’re still considering what traditions to develop in this place. We love that Dad still grilles; even if it is snowing! One newer tradition is decorating the house exterior and we love to drive around neighborhoods to view other outdoor decorations. In so many places we lived houses were behind walls. Our own house was behind a wall. So why decorate outside? My favorite outdoor decoration this year is the inflatable Olaf.

This month, I am dreaming of places I love. But I am loving being home too.

Connection Takes Courage

Connection Takes Courage: One of the greatest needs and desires of any human being is to be deeply seen and known by another. Perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes to this sense of belonging and deep love is the risk of vulnerability and reciprocity.

The past couple of posts I’ve shared have been more vulnerable than previous ones. Earlier postings have typically ranged from a regurgitated form of research and notions of Third Culture Kid identity characteristics to a series of quotations I find relevant to my own TCK journey. Recently, one of my friends challenged me to be more vulnerable in my writings — to share my stories as they relate to my TCK research. At first, I was reluctant as I wanted to remain a bit anonymous and generic in my interactions with readers.

But, I decided to challenge myself to write more personal stories. To, perhaps, help my own processing. To, perhaps, be seen in a different way.

And so, I shared what was on and in my heart over the past few months. It was an uncomfortable feeling publishing my intimate experiences, especially of a recent end to a 5 year relationship. But, as a creative outlet, this writing helped me to name some of my feelings, and ultimately work through them better as I reflected openly. I worried that sharing such a deeply emotional experience wouldn’t translate across time and space and distance in an authentic way. Perhaps it didn’t. But to one person it did.

To a woman 9,873 mi/15889km and 14 time zones away from me.

She wrote me a private message informing me how she appreciated reading my posts and wanted to encourage my heart by sending me a book that she felt would resonate with my recent reflections. I provided my snail mail address, and last week, I got the book. And what a wonderful one it is.

To be deeply seen and known by another is to risk vulnerability and letting another in. Across time and space and distance a woman I have only interacted with on social media could empathize with me and encourage me through written words.

In a society that often argues that social media fragments community and distills human connection, this woman and I have proven you wrong. This week, today, this hour, I feel so grateful for the courageous reach this woman had to authentically connect with my personhood and my vulnerability through social media.

May my writing continue be a creative tension; a push-pull of what to share and what to leave out. But I’ll write on. Because of human connection.