Monday, March 30, 2009

Third Culture Kids (From Thursday March 19th)

Today I am tired. I’ve been under a lot of stress vis a vis the Third Culture Kid Seminar, planning the Bali trip, Passover fast-approaching, (I’m doing it for the kids’ school too – 150 kids for a mock-seder) the JCC rabbi search and the charity essay contest on which I’m working. But the seminar today made so many relevant points that I want to mention a few of them so that perhaps the people around me will understand where I’m coming from.

The talk was by psychologist Elizabeth Gillies. She’s is a British woman who has been an expat in various countries for her whole adult life. She works with the local English-language counseling center and with international schools across Tokyo. Here are a few things that she pointed out:

First: the definition of a Third Culture Kid is any person under the age of 18 who has grown up in a culture other than that of either of his or her parents. Some researchers might add that the Third Culture Kid takes the best of the culture of his or her parents and the best of the “host” culture and then creates his or her own “third” culture.

  • There are many positive aspects of being a Third Culture Kid, according to the research. Among them are:
    1. Being smart, alert, and globally aware
    2. Mature, sensitive and excellent listeners
    3. Tolerance and cross-cultural understanding
    4. Flexible and open to change
    5. High achieving
  • Third Culture Kids are more likely to have an intact family where both parents have advanced degrees. Statistically the family moves for the job (government, military, missionary, business) of the father. Often the mother is a “trailing spouse” with perhaps her own issues surrounding that term.
  • The father for whom the family moved quite often has a high-level job and works long hours. Sometimes there are issues integrating him into the family after business trips or even on the weekend when he hasn’t been around all week. Patience is mandatory!
  • There are many drawbacks to being a Third Culture Kid. Among them are:
    1. They feel “different”
    2. They gravitate to those like themselves
    3. Delayed adolescence
    4. Migratory instinct
    5. Rootlessness, restlessness
    6. Unresolved grief
  • Adolescence is a time when kids typically rebel against parents as a way of asserting independence. In the case of the TCK, often they don’t feel the need to do it until much later – perhaps after they move out of their parents’ house even. It’s about identity separate from the family unit. The opportunities to rebel in a “normal” fashion are not present in the culture that is not the “home” culture. In addition, many TCKs have a lot of independence due to location and/or maturity, so that there’s not as much to rebel against.
  • Grief can be a large part of the TCK experience, unfortunately. The experience of leaving home and leaving friends can be traumatic. The transitory nature of the communities in which we live can cause grief with the constant loss of friends to new assignments. Teaching the kids about grief and that it’s normal to be sad is part of our job in parenting TCKs.
  • Resilience can be taught. There is such a thing as “the new normal” – and that’s what we focus our energies on achieving, even as many of our friends leave and rotate.
  • A common thread for TCKs is that they “feel” different from the rest of the kids they meet in their home countries. They often feel that they no one truly “gets” them. The same goes for adults who live in a foreign country.
  • Often the extended families of expats are thousands of miles away and in varying time zones which make communications difficult so the nuclear family becomes the focus.
  • Research shows that a family living abroad is necessarily more interdependent and tight-knit than the typical family living in their home culture. That is not to say that we don’t know some families with amazingly close nuclear families in the U.S. – it’s just to point out that many expat families don’t have the extended family around on which to rely, and often rely more on each other. This is also not to make light of our extended family.
  • Our children need their extended family relationships to be strong and stable. This was a big point of the seminar. We love the fact that we can call you and go to you in the summer. It makes the kids feel more grounded and in touch with their own culture.
  • Though we call Tokyo “home,” TCKs need a sense of home that is beyond Japan. For us it’s obviously America – we are American after all is said and done. For this we rely on our extended family and fantastic friends. Friends are a stabilizing force for our kids and they need to know that the people they loved and cared about when we lived there are still there loving them and caring about them. We are lucky that we have so many people who do love us and care for us.
  • TCKs need to connect with people like themselves and friends that they’ve had in Japan (or other host culture) who have moved away.
  • Whatever we do, we are doing our best. It is hard for you to understand the ups and downs of our particular life and we appreciate that you try.

    These are the main points of what I took away from the seminar today. We’re going to have a follow-on one about the idea of resiliency in the coming months. I hope it’s as successful as the one today.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Art of Dining

The Upper elementary class of the kids' school was the international school of choice this year by the charity Refugees International to participate in their fundraising event, the Art of Dining. The kids created a table setting and then showed it at the Westin Hotel Tokyo amid other tables by organizations, chefs and artists. The Japanese Emperor's sister-in-law, Princess Hitachi, was on hand to view the settings. She stopped and spoke with the children and shook their hands. Bailey was simply thrilled! Enjoy the photos of the kids, the Princess, and a few of the other tables.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sport Stacking Japan

Sport Stacking is a great sport for eye-hand coordination, rhythm and other great skills. There are official stacks and times and "fouls" - rules and regulations. Bailey participated in an all-Japan tournament and did wonderfully - a medal and a trophy! He and his friend Shin-Won even did a doubles entry. Enjoy the attached photos.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bailey and Sydney this winter

Here are a few great photos from Bailey's ski trip and Sydney's two class trips to the science museum and to the base of Mount Fuji for "fun in the snow day." In the pictures of Bailey, please note that he is the one with a red ski parka and gray ski pants. The school took the kids to a ski area at the southern end of the Japanese Alps called Naspa. They stayed at the New Otani hotel and skied for three days. It was a fantastic trip and Bailey is quite the accomplished skier between the two trips we took as a family and this one. Sydney does quite well at it also! Her class trip to the snow was just for the day (7am to 5pm!!) and involved snowmen, sledding, a fun lunch and sleeping on the bus-ride home. (Sydney wears a yellow parka and beige ski pants) Her class trip was a little lower-key and involved a full day at an amazing museum of science. My favorite pic is the one of her and her girlfriends. Such diverse girls! Enjoy!

From Inauguration Day...

Tears and Hope
“Mom, why are you crying?” Bailey asked with great concern. Bailey and I, along with his father and little sister, were watching a recording of the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America, Barak Obama, over our breakfast in Tokyo.

The question was startling in its clarity and simplicity, but the answer was not.
Bailey knew that we were not Obama supporters at the beginning and wondered why cared at all about the inauguration. Marc, luckily, was able to field that question. He explained that the president, after the election is not just president of people who voted for him; he is president of the entire nation and that was the essence of democracy. More people wanted Obama to be their leader than wanted McCain to be their leader so that even the McCain (or Clinton or Huckabee or whomever…) supporters had an obligation to unite and stand behind the current president as a cohesive country. They might hope that their candidate might win next time. And perhaps, even maybe, this president might exceed expectations and earn the support of nay-sayers.

But that wasn’t what moved me, Bailey’s mother, to tears. The four of us as a family have made the choice to live outside of the United States largely for business reasons, though we enjoy the lifestyle of Tokyo very much. But the fact that we live elsewhere makes us no less American than any other person in the country. On this day, one man stood before the entire world and projected an image of hope. Even if Obama had never opened his mouth for that speech, the fact that his face could shine with the possibility of a new day was awe-inspiring.

In the global community in which we live, there are constant debates about the very idea of America – is it still relevant? Is it still a super-power? Are the American people worthy of their place in the world economy with the mess they made with the mortgage crisis? The people around me, Japanese, French, Korean, Finnish, Australian, South African, and others, wonder if America should step aside for the likes of China or India to emerge as the world leader. We debate if the American century is over and how Americans should respond to the other countries vying for its spot in the limelight of the world stage. These are not things that I share with my kids, and indeed it’s just talk amongst friends who are all, at the end of the day, expatriates, living away from their home countries in the bubble of Tokyo.

But with Bailey and Sydney though, I wanted to share my dreams that they, too, might grow up to be president. The thing about America is not its military might or economic prowess. What makes America a great nation and a wonderful place to live is that through hard work, all things are possible. Did Obama have advantages that the average African-American doesn’t have – including a devoted grandmother who sent him to private school? Of course he did, but that just means that he had support; it does not mean that any other person who dreams and is dedicated to a cause could not succeed in the same way.

What I saw and wanted to share with my children is the look on Michelle Obama’s face as she kissed her husband and held her child’s hand. The way she feels today is exactly the same as the way I feel when my husband gives a brilliant speech to colleagues at a conference or when Sydney slides her little hand into mine for safe-keeping. I pointed out to Bailey that the Reverend who gave his benediction after the new president pointed to a land where people care about each other and are guided by the ideals of their forefathers to work toward an ideal of a loving and cooperative community. This was not just a prayer for Obama and the country; this was a prayer for each of us – something we can all relate to.

If you think about it, it is nothing short of miraculous that the most powerful man in the world stepped down and handed the baton over to his successor, making him the new most powerful man in the world today. All of the transition was completed in relative calm with relative peace and with a sense of rightness bestowed on the pomp and circumstance that arises from the traditions of the first inauguration of a new and passionate country in the late 1700’s. The United States was founded on a dream of regular people who wanted to be free to do great things with their lives and for the lives of their children’s children’s children…. And so on.
I was crying, I told my own children finally, because at a time when compassion is a commodity to cherish and a misguided sense of justice often trumps empathy, this one man has the power, for at least one day, to unite us all. He has made me feel everything that is good about America. He has given me hope to pass on to my children. And he has brought the global house down with his message of peace not through wishing and hoping, but via hard work and toil, in the boardroom and on the battlefield and on the purse-strings. Nothing is easy, I tell my kids, and more to the point, nothing worth having comes easily.

So the world might get back to its business tomorrow and the rollup of the sleeves will begin in earnest. But today, Obama supporter or not, we are all American and that is what matters.

“I get it, Mom,” Bailey said after my explanation and a few more tears. I hugged him then, and sent him out the door to school.