By Dr Ute Limacher-Riebold
In two weeks, the FIGT conference will take place for the first time in Europe. Amsterdam is a truly international city, where 45 per cent oft he population are ethnic minorities coming from 180 different backgrounds.
I found out about FIGT thanks to Ellen Mahoney, when she held a talk on TCKs in The Hague a few years ago. I had read about TCKs before and was very glad to find out (in my late thirties!) that there was a name for what I was my whole life. I am an ATCK or expat*-since-birth , raising my children outside of their parents' passport countries.
The fact that I only lived in European countries so far will probably make me a European ATCK? – I usually don't like labels, but I find the discussion about TCKs, ATCKs, global nomads, expats, internationals etc. in the FIGT research group very interesting, and I appreciate the fact that the "box" is becoming more colourful and expansible. I am also intrigued by the recurrent number three that we can find in many kinds of definitions: Third Culture Kids, I am a Triangle, STARS (i.e Spouses Traveling And Relocating Successfully; the peaks are triangles), not to mention the three years itch many internationals have... – Aside from this more definitorial research at FIGT, it is the social and psychological aspect that fascinates me. Since a very young age I have seen families split, people getting divorced and children being shunted between two or more countries because the international life took a toll on them. The fact that some thrive in very difficult conditions, whereas others complain about the weather, the food etc. and struggle to accept diversity, brought me to study resilience and the mindset that leads people to fully embrace life even under difficult circumstances.
For more than 20 years I have helped internationals adjust and thrive abroad as a friend, a mentor, a teacher and a lecturer, in Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands, before I turned my passion into my profession at Ute's Expat* Lounge. Like many other accompanying partners** I reinvented myself and decided to combine my expertise in linguistics, communication and the six languages I speak fluently to help internationals build bridges between the known and the unknown and find their very personal way to embrace and enjoy their international life.
It will be my first FIGT conference and as a newbie I will do it the way "it all originated": with a kitchen table conversation. I am really looking forward to meeting like minded internationals and learn more about how we all contribute to help people understand that our international experience can be as normal and natural as any other if we realize that we are "united in diversity", quoting the EU motto. Because, like Pico Iyer (2013) (http://blog.ted.com/where-is-home-pico-iyer-at-tedglobal-2013/) said, if we all lived together, we would form "the fifth largest nation on earth".
* I use the term expat in its strictest sense: ex "outside of" & patriam "father-country"/home country
** I prefer the term Accompanying Partner instead of Trailing Spouse, because I associate wheels with the term "trailing" and I don't think that one needs to be married to follow his or her partner abroad
Dr. Ute Limacher-Riebold is German, and currently lives in The Hague. As an expat since birth, she has never lived in her passport-country. Her aim is to help internationals navigate their life abroad successfully. For more information see www.UtesExpatLounge.com