My Oh My : It’s been a hot second (or year) since my last post on here. I’m back. Check out instagram pages mcn320 and/or adult_third_culture_kid_blog to do a skim through 2019… I maintained those online platforms 🙂
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: 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.
Saturday, May 19, 2018: It’s 8:00pm EST and I’m eating a generous helping of Caramel Drizzle Cheesecake ice cream out of a coral white bowl. This is what single girls do at 8pm on a Saturday night. 😉
Starting out at 5:00am EST this morning, I nestled up next to my mom with a cuppa tea to watch American Meghan Markle wed European Prince Harry. We used our delicate fine bone china tea cups and floral silver rimmed side plates for our English PG tip tea and biscuit breakfast.
We sized up the fashion of wedding guests; from the fascinators to heels to color choices, we looked on with sheer enjoyment as we ourselves were comfy in our PJs and slippers. I couldn’t help but remember the last Royal Wedding I watched seven years ago and wished my mom was with me then. She was in South Africa and I was in South Carolina. For today’s moment in time, we were both in Michigan.
Today was emotional for several reasons.
I was looking forward to marriage. The timeline was set: engaged this summer, married next summer, engagement events in and between and across two continents.
But I’m not. And I’m not in that relationship anymore.
Today, I was confronted [again] with this reality as I watched the royal wedding. The anticipation, the consideration of the cross-cultural relationship, the diamond ring…..
I thought about how I was “Princess Megan [sans h]” to him.
Recently, I deleted a google document that contained the images of ring[s] potential I would have liked on my hand, the timeline of different events to happen in the U.S. and in Europe, and some musings of wedding decorations to have at said events. The deleted file has freed up space – both virtual and mental. I’m still working on the emotional.
It’s that Season.
Over the past few weeks, I have been confronted with the reality that more of my university friends, childhood friends, and career friends are announcing engagements, getting married, and having babies.
And now, more confrontational than ever before, I’m in a space of singleness.
Yet today, I was encouraged with a renewed sense of purpose on and for my own timeline. I’m building my own career track and (re)negotiating my own sense of identity as an Adult Third Culture Kid. Why should I allow society, community, family, or friends dictate what it means to live life according to a proverbial “ticking clock.” Why do I permit them so much power sometimes?
It’s been somewhat of a personal challenge over the past few months to feel authentically and fully happy for the engagement, marriage, and baby announcements across my various networks as my own prospect for these life markers seem dimmer and dimmer. Closer networks populate my phone screen with their celebratory announcements: a friend texts me the best photos of her engagement photo shoot, another shares over a skype call that she found out the day before she is pregnant, yet another displays beautiful shots of her wedding events as I scroll through my social media accounts. I simply love their joy and appreciate their willingness to share it with me. They have a radiant spirit of authenticity and of electric happiness as they embark on their new paths with the partners they have chosen.
Love is always a choice.
While my community certainly advocated for and supported my past relationship, I knew in my heart of hearts that I wasn’t being authentic in it. It took some coaching, mentorship, and deep reflection to be honest with myself and to choose myself. And I’m on a journey to completely understand who is this ATCK at 31 years old.
Meghan Markle, 36, met her prince 16 months ago. Over the past year, they have surely discovered both nuanced and overt differences and similarities and mishaps and funhaps of their cross cultural relationship. Surely they will discover more. My own cross-cultural relationship was full of them. Today, I am thrilled for these newly weds. I am inspired by their timeline. I think that when you’re older, you know faster who you want to do life with; who you want as a witness to your life and whose life you want witness. Because you have had time to have a fuller understanding of yourself.
Love is powerful.
“There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even oversentimentalise it. There’s power – power in love. . . There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.” – Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry
As an ATCK now into my thirties, I’m (re)discovering how and why my globally mobile childhood and early adulthood has shaped who I am and if it is who I would like to stay. Today, although a bit sad because of my own sparkly girly dreams shelved, I am confident that I need to continue to lean into myself to believe in greater and better things to come — professionally and personally. Self-love is powerful. Don’t oversentimentalise it. Don’t underestimate it. Simply do it.
Be Thou My Vision, God of Love and Life.
Today, I am confronted with my gratefulness for this time and space and place in life. It is an intersection of rest and growth and cultivation of who and what and where I want to be this summer and next and the non-rush of it all. “Be Thou My Vision” and “Stand By Me” are two of my favorite songs. FAVORITE. And they were played at the Royal Wedding today.
Such a beautiful personal reminder that God gives good gifts to His children. This time in my life is a gift. And so, let me shine my light for God as He stands by me. After all, I am Princess Megan to Him.
Families. In. Global. Transition.
Take a look at each of those words individually. I am curious: which one or ones are the reasons you attended or are thinking to attend the annual Families in Global Transition conference?
I have looked at each of those words separately and have considered which one of the four is the reason why I have attended the Families in Global Transition conference for the past three years.
My first FIGT conference was three years ago in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I attended the one last year in The Hague, The Netherlands, and the one this year also in The Hague. Every year I’ve shown up with a different identity and with an entirely different research presentation.
Every year, I have been in a very different transition compared to the one I was in the year before.
Over the past three years, I have moved six times in three countries and five cities. I graduated from American University with my second Masters degree, completed a summer intercultural communication and personal leadership course, held three jobs, and co-founded a business. I have delivered over 30 presentations – both virtual and in person – and have become a co-chair of a global nomad member interest group at NAFSA. In a word, my life has been about:
In 2016, I attended the FIGT conference with the identity of graduate student presenting research on the intersection between retirement and reentry for global families to their passport country. Having observed my parents go through this exact process the year before after living a global life for 40+ years, I spent my last semester of graduate school collecting data and stories about global families’ experiencing their new-found retirement. I’ll post the report in the Academic Section of this blog platform.
In 2017, I attended the FIGT conference as an expat English language instructor in Poland. I presented my “single expat story” during the ignite/lighting speech part of the conference. This platform allowed me to share my perspective of the challenges and opportunities for a single adult living abroad. Again, personally, I was in a transition phase in life trying to find my path after graduate school
This year, 2018, I attended the FIGT conference as an independent consultant with Intercultural Transitions and led two presentations in The Hague: one as the Millennial Forum discussant leader and one as the Adult Third Culture Kid panel facilitator. These two leadership opportunities provided platforms for me to transition from my previous FIGT identities into one that I finally feel will stick around awhile: scholar-practitioner – that is, I conduct research and then implement it either through my own writing or own presenting. In other words, I help others:
And this brings me to my perspective about how FIGT can
From my three year experiences at the conference, the main focus of the attendees has been on the word Families. I get it. That’s why the organization was founded; to provide resources and research to families about how to successfully navigate a life overseas. This focus shouldn’t change. But I think there needs to be a shift in the nature of the conference itself.
Attending the conference feels like a family reunion. This year, I felt like I was seeing my older sisters present on their bad-a$$ consultancies and businesses. I felt like I was sharing both my professional and personal news to my inquisitive aunts (they were curious about my love-life even). And, I felt like I was introducing my friends (my first time attendee panelists) to my extended relatives I haven’t seen in a year. It is a cosy and secure feeling at this conference. I felt the support and the space to be vulnerable.
I even call one couple at the conference my FIGT parents. They made my attending the conference financially possible. They are my adopted FIGT parents and I love them so much! I am so grateful for their support and their belief in my vision. They told me, “Your voice needs to be heard at the conference. You need to be a part of the conversations.”
This conference is fondly called by many, “a reunion of strangers.”
But family, in my opinion it’s time to transition a bit, to pivot a little in our perspective and our approach of this “reunion.” Of this annual meeting. We need to in a word:
And over the past three years, I have seen the beginning of this transition.
- We need to invite others to our transition table.
- We need to be intentional about gate-keepers who can provide funding for transition seminars.
- We need to dig deep into transition research. I’m talking about peer reviewed research. Not “I’ve got a hunch” research.
- We need to make our reach broader.
- We need to diversify.
I had someone tell me at this most recent conference that they felt “left out” because they didn’t know the family as well as I did. They observed the hugs and smiles and inside jokes. And felt that they weren’t a part of the family reunion.
We need to take heed to this perception.
- Transition to hold more seats at the table.
- Transition to connect with as many as we can at the conference.
- Transition to a network that goes beyond the family unit. To the units that operate outside our family unit.
- Transition from privilege.
- Transition from inside/outside.
There is no doubt in my mind that we are on that track.
We need to remember that transition takes time.
Let’s not beat ourselves up that we haven’t arrived there. Let’s celebrate the 20 years this organization has grown and empower each other to expand it.
Thank you for making membership affordable for us millennials in transition. Thank you for giving us a platform. Thank you for giving us the space to share our perspectives. Thank you for asking for our input. Thank you for listening to us about how the family can diversify.
I look forward to seeing you all next year.
Oh, and family, since we’ve gone there in our conversations, I wouldn’t be opposed with you playing matchmaker for me. I would like to transition into a partnership. And perhaps, within the next few years, arrive with Family being the most significant word to me at the Families in Global Transition conference.
Excerpt on Retirement : “That night before I returned to D.C., Dad, Mom, and I sat around our campsite fire in the campground on the outskirts of town. We stared into the burning embers as we thought about this new chapter in our lives. I looked up and told them how I admire them for their lifelong practice of seamlessly moving in and between social spaces gracefully and of being comfortable with interacting with anyone while having the ability to form meaningful conversations. I explained that I love the way they value relationships they have had overseas and how I sense how eagerly they look forward to those they will engage in domestically.
Most importantly, though, I told them that I was happy that they still had their wanderlust youthful spirit to travel and to be adventurous. … ….At that moment, I saw the glow of satisfaction that not only had they anchored themselves to a place but had positioned themselves to lead us in a new story. A story with a HOME we chose for ourselves.”
Personal Identity in “Success” : I am proud to be a millennial Adult Third Culture Kid. In and through these identities, I’m not necessarily following/have followed a linear path of/to “success”: good grades = good university = good job = good family = good retirement. That formula doesn’t/isn’t/hasn’t defining/ed my path. My “success” is not necessarily stability and security in my job. It is not my life structure [right now]. My generation and my fellow Adult Third Culture Kids are (re)structuring what “success” is and what it looks like. We value work-life integration, flexibility, sustainability, purpose, and intrinsic motivation. Our “risk” looks different from other generations’ “risk.” We value being someone rather than being something. We know that what we don’t want is just as important as what we do want.
My narrative is different from your narrative, fellow ATCK. But we have a thread of similarity in our drive for “success.”
Hey, Adult Third Culture Kids : Hold conversations with fellow TCKs. Discover how/if your identity is (dis)embedded in location, people, belongings, systems, ____________. Discuss core values and ways of knowing and being fundamental to your community. Unpack the culturally complex and nuanced life you lead. You’ll find commonality and clarity. And trust me: there is healing and closure in the process.
And quite frankly, the unexamined life stifles growth.
Change : Whenever I go back to a place or reenter my passport country, I am struck by the change I see in both it and myself. The rate of change seems to be increasingly faster and more overt. What does that mean for identity? And for community? And for sense of belonging? It reminds me of a stream of water — always on course. Always in a state of movement. How do we cultivate a sense of rootedness in the fluidity of change?
Adult Third Culture Kid Siblings : Has anyone else been watching the popular U.S. series “This is Us”? I watched Episode “Number 3” recently and felt so much connection to the feelings of [unresolved] grief and feelings of love and loss that the characters in the story acted out so authentically. The part where “Number 3,” otherwise known as “Randall” in the series, describes life as a game of pac man with chasing things and sometimes having old ghosts show up in different ways resonates so much with my personal TCK stories of (re)entry and moving from country to country. Randall said, “Decade after decade just eating those circles, I mean, trying different routes, trying his best to avoid all those ghosts.” Those “ghosts,” in whatever form for me, produce triggers of emotions and grief that I am running away from processing in and through my TCK identity.
Whereas Randall’s wife, Beth, says that his analogy is “bleak,” he says it’s “beautiful” and goes on to show how acknowledging, facing, and leaning into those “ghost” forms helps us to process current feelings and to understand the root of loss, pain, and unresolved grief. Every time I watch an episode of this show, it is so clear to me that unresolved grief in adulthood is complex and can appear in different ways.
One final line in the episode tonight stung and sprung instant salty tears streaming down my face. Randall’s adopted Dad, “Jack,” was narrating the final scene which showed various unresolved grief the siblings [Number 1, 2, and 3] were facing. He said, “And when one of you falls down … the other one’s standing up.” It hit home. I thought of my relationship with my own brother. How when I have fallen down, especially in my various moves back to the U.S., he has stood up in support (financially, emotionally, wisely). And when he’s fallen down, I stand up for him. We may not understand why one another has fallen down, and it may take a few more episodes in our own series to get to that clarity, but we will be there for one another through it all.
We haven’t been together in place for over a year now. But we’ve connected in emotional spaces to lean into the process of continuing to heal grief, feelings of loss, and helping one another to stand up taller than before. I love you, brother. I’m standing for you right now.