Last weekend, I attended my first FIGT conference. FIGT stands for Families in Global Transition and is a world-wide conference for global nomads, Third Culture Kids, expats and global citizens- and other weird creatures for whom the most difficult question to answer is: “Where are you from?”, closely followed by: “Where is home?”
Experiences from FIGT
Usually, the conference is somewhere in the US, but this year the organizers took the very brave step of moving FIGT to the Netherlands. My husband bought me the ticket for Christmas. He asked his parents to come and watch the kids while I was at the conference and he was working.
It was wonderful. I’ve met people I haven’t met before- among others Melissa Dalton-Bradford who wrote the compelling memoir “Global Mom” which I’ve reviewed here.
and Marilyn Gardner of Communicating without Boundaries!
I also met some of my wonderful friends from Multicultural Kid Blogs!
I attended pretty much all the workshops and lectures but because I don’t have much space here, I’ll have to limit myself to describe the most memorable appearances. I was also responsible for mentoring emerging writers who had a special scholarship to learn writing and publishing with Jo Parfitt.
This year’s focus was on “Bringing Empathy and Expertise to the Evolving Global Family”
The first keynote was from Chris O’Shaughnessy on that very topic. His lecture was delightful in every way, both funny and endlessly moving, and featuring the unforgettable quote: “Expats arrive at their new destination culturally naked.”
He then mentioned that “Focusing too much on otherness decreases empathy” and, above all, “Every interaction gives or takes life. There are no neutral interactions.”
In the end, I left the room with tears- both of laughter and sadness in my eyes.
What is transition?
Up next were Megan Norton, Kathleen Swords and Maryam Afnan Ahmad who talked about things that may sound totally different: namely boarding schools, and retirement among expats and TCK’s, but the idea behind that was a solid one: Pre-empting the Challenges at Critical Ages and Stages for TCKs and Families. Most memorable quotes:
“If you can’t understand a make-up of a TCK, you can’t recognize them. And if you can’t understand a TCK, how can you help them connect? And if they can’t connect, they’ll never belong.”
“Transition is about leaving a “place” and settling into a “space”, which they have to sculpt into a new place.”, and I think my favorite: “It’s the emotional distance that counts, not the physical distance.”- all by Kathleen Swords.
The benefits to being an outsider
Next up was a panel discussion called: “Is Belonging Overrated?” lead by Trisha Carter and featuring Ryan Haynes and Marian van Bakel. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while. Where is the line between belonging and losing yourself? How far will people go to get the feeling they belong somewhere? And are there any benefits of actually being an outsider?
A feeling of belonging is definitely important and many people ask themselves the question:
“Do I belong to a place? Do I belong to the people I left? Do I belong to the people where I arrived at? Or am I a hybrid?”
Belonging is “a feeling you get when you’re on the inside. It’s knowing what to do and how to do it.” But, “the global journey is experiencing life on the outside.”
The question is, “whether in order to belong, do we need to let go of something?”– including our skills, gender, religion, race, sexuality or fashion?
The panel discussion’s conclusion is clear: yes, a feeling of belonging is definitely overrated:“The feeling of not belonging goes hand in hand with all the amazing things that we have because we’re on this global journey.”
Make the tent bigger
The keynote speaker the next day was Ruth van Reken, who wrote extensively about Third Culture Kids. Ruth is an extremely kind and sweet person. She remembers everyone (she really does!) and gives them a hug. In her keynote she told the story of FIGT and how it all started. She pleaded for everyone to “enlarge the conversation”- to move away from a very tight definition of TCK’s to a broader, more inclusive one.
“We have a world of people who don’t know who they are. Who don’t know how to find who they are.”- said Ruth, referring that the identity issues can lead to anger and criminal acts. “There are a lot of ways you can be different underneath”- she notices. In the end, “Inclusion is important no matter where you are.”
The Challenges of being a Third Culture Kid
Then Marilyn Gardner had a lovely panel discussion with the topic: “When home spans the globe”. The best thing was being able to see TCK’s sharing their stories (including the lovely Taylor Murray, whose book “Hidden in My Heart” I’m reading now).Her mom, Susan, asked: “How do we rebuild a new family life when you don’t know what’s going on?”
She also gave some advice, for example to set up a family rhythm and have the house put together as quickly as possible. “Home is a comfort zone, a place where you feel safe” and “You’re different and that’s OK”- is the advice Susan Murray gave her daughter Taylor and other TCKs. ”One of the keys to resilience is belonging to a bigger family story”- added Marilyn. Of course, both TCK’s saw the benefits of their lifestyle such as a bigger worldview and self-awareness.
Music and Tears
The last day’s keynote was perhaps the most emotional. Melissa Dalton-Bradford talked about losing her son Parker in an accident in her speech “When Grief Strikes the Global Family”.
Her talk started like her book- in a humorous way, describing how they tried to fit the huge Norwegian table into a tiny apartment in Versailles. She also talked about TCKs: “Our children became typical invisible aliens.” I really admired Melissa’s devotion to her family: “I was going to create community wherever I went”. She pleaded for the term “trailing spouse” to be banned and said: “I much prefer stabilizing access.”
But it ended in tears: “There are many iterations of loss.” In the end, Melissa sang and the whole audience was crying, myself included, because Melissa is right: “Those experiences are so beautiful because we know the loss that went into it.”
I came back home full of ideas and extremely inspired. It was lovely to hear that the conference will take place in the Netherlands as well so I I’ll be there next year!