Interview with Kilian Kröll
Written by Lauren Owen
Edited by Dounia Bertuccelli. With thanks to the sponsorship of Summertime Publishing and the Parfitt Pascoe Writing Residency.
Wherever he goes, Kilian Kröll plays many roles. Whether serving as the chair of the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) board, facilitating Ignite sessions, or supporting students and faculty at an international school, Kilian continues to be passionate about the people he leads.
Despite his many jobs and commitments during the FIGT conference, Kilian was never too busy to engage in conversations with attendees, which included an interview at the end of the conference. FIGT is fortunate to be led by a person as strategic and intentional as Kilian, and whose own cross-cultural background has contributed to his ability to guide FIGT into its next phase as a global organization.
Kilian’s upbringing as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) contributes to his ability to lead such a diverse organization as FIGT. Born in Germany to an American mother and a German father, both classical musicians, Kilian grew up bilingual and spent summers in Florida with his maternal grandparents. At the age of 12, Kilian and his mother moved from Germany to Austria – one of the most formative moments of his life. “I cannot conceive of myself without that move,” he said.
This single move encompassed several transitions: a physical move between countries, moving in with his new step-father and baby half-brother, coming out as gay, and a change in his mother’s career. Of these transitions, Kilian identifies the physical move as the most impactful.
“I would open my mouth and be identified as German,” he remembered, articulating his lack of preparation for the culture shock he would face. Looking back on the transition, Kilian can now see the skills he gained from the transition. “It gave me an understanding of what it means to be an outsider and not have access to the local culture.”
Kilian would later be able to use this outside perspective to help other people in cross-cultural environments.
Connecting with FIGT
Kilian walked onto the FIGT stage somewhat unexpectedly. Even with his TCK upbringing, he did not connect with the expat network immediately. “As a gay person, I never thought of an expat community as a safe space,” he admitted.
After studying and living in the United States for over a decade, Kilian moved to Denmark on a whim at age 30. Without a network or a career, though, the stint was short-lived. Like many adult TCKs unaware of the impact of their upbringing, his life lacked direction and he lacked a home. Moving back to the United States, he sought a career, not just a next job, and returned to Philadelphia because of a support network already in place.
Instead of distancing himself from the expat community, though, this move ultimately put him on the road to integrating his life and connecting with FIGT. While in Pennsylvania, a friend suggested he consider a career in coaching. The coaching role combined many of Kilian’s strengths – from people to strategic planning – and he found himself in the field of transitions coaching. It was during one of these seminars that he first heard the term TCK.
“That moment changed my life,” he remembered. He’d found his tribe.
The coaching network connected Kilian to FIGT, and in 2011 he applied to host a Kitchen Table Conversation about supporting LGBT employees in global transition. Despite the tardiness of the application, Program Director Anne Copeland approved it, recognizing the necessity of opening up a dialogue surrounding the topic.
The reception to the Kitchen Table Conversation confirmed for Kilian that he had found his tribe. State Department, military and corporate representatives talked about changes being made to provide necessary support to LGBT colleagues. “For the first time, it made me feel I could bring to the table all parts of who I am,” Kilian commented.
Since then, Kilian has attended every FIGT conference, and joined the board shortly after.
Looking back, Kilian has been able to see how different pieces of his life have prepared him for board leadership. He’ll be the first to admit he’s “not an expert”. Regardless, experiences such as reading financial statements as a bookkeeper, coaching others, and strategic thinking have contributed to his success as an FIGT board member.
Within the board, Kilian has carried out a variety of roles. Prior to serving as president, Kilian acted as treasurer, chair of the scholarship committee, and co-chair of the program committee. Within each of these, Kilian has used his skills to propel FIGT forward – under Kilian’s leadership, for example, scholarship recipients become well-connected to each other, conference attendees and the board. As president, Kilian coordinates meetings and action-based agendas, and he plans for the strategic growth of FIGT, as evidenced in aspects such as the launching of the new FIGT website.
As president, Kilian saw FIGT 2015 with different eyes than the average attendee, and highlighted at least two shining moments of the weekend:
First, the FIGT 2015 ‘graphic design revolution’. In addition to commissioning the redesign of the FIGT logo and website, the communication team also created a program cover design contest. Kilian was especially proud of the chosen submission. In Kilian’s words it “brings FIGT to where it needs to be”.
Kilian’s second highlight of the weekend was the content, especially Norman Viss’s Ignite session and Doug Ota’s closing Keynote. Norman’s take on the spiritual aspect of transition spoke to a piece of transition often neglected.
Doug Ota’s closing Keynote was “literally a dream come true for me,” Kilian reflected. In speaking with Doug, they noticed a typical conclusion to the FIGT conference involved people leaving early, getting emotional, and essentially avoiding goodbye.
“This organization doesn’t know how to do goodbye,” he realized, to which Doug made the ultimate suggestion: “what if we do a goodbye ritual?”
Taking care of oneself includes a ritual, and through Kilian’s and Doug’s partnership, FIGT closed with one. The ritual that resulted exceeded expectations.
FIGT Looking Forward
Change is already imminent for FIGT as it relocates to the Netherlands for the next two years. Kilian’s positivity and optimism about this transition are contagious. “It shows that we are global and will make bold choices,” he asserted. He looks forward to closing out his final year on the FIGT board and opening the door to someone else.
As FIGT transitions, he hopes it continues to give service providers of global nomads tools to take to the people with whom they work, whether through research, practical tools, books, or teaching. FIGT has already begun this step through its new website.
Kilian also sees the global nomad community as something bigger: “we who have privilege and language around these issues are able to connect with populations outside this particular community… and create a cross-disciplinary dialogue.” As a result, FIGT has focused on building networks to ignite change. For example, the Pollock scholarship committee has made a conscious decision to focus on people working with immigrants and refugees.
“My hope for everyone at this conference is that they […] cultivate opportunities in their lives to experience integration and purpose every day,” Kilian said in closing. “We are in the position to have an enormous impact on the planet.” This feeling translates into how global nomads tell their stories, connect across perceived divisions, as well as find meaning in the work we accomplish.