By Sam Parfitt
It was my first time at the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference, but those four letters had been present in my life for as long as I can remember, even if I hadn’t the foggiest idea what they meant. My mother, Jo, was always going to ‘FIGT’ and would return from Indianapolis with Hershey’s chocolates and tacky souvenirs of the Speedway they’ve got there. I guess that’s what FIGT meant to me: bad chocolate and cool – to a 14-year-old – t-shirts of racing cars. My expectations were met in one respect: thanks to the information stands there was plenty of cheap chocolate to go around! Fortunately, however, I realized FIGT was about a lot more, and it could also be meaningful to someone my age – someone who wears the ‘expat’ badge with some discomfort.
When I meet people for the first time and they ask me where I’m from, I tend not to give them the long answer. “The UK,” I say, or “the UK and the Netherlands,” if they’re lucky. The moment I mention I was born in Dubai, a giant banner screaming oil unfurls behind me (at least that’s what I fear) and along with it, “Oh, so you must be rich?” Of course, most of this is the product of my own imagination, yet when your friends are activists and artists, it’s not the best way to convince others of your ethical ‘purity’ or artistic ‘authenticity’. Identity crises aside, I was also concerned the term ‘expat’ excludes those who do not move with the security of a job, or who move with the intention – or with no other choice but – to integrate. I write at a time of intense migration, most of it forced, from the global South to the global North.
It would be nice to write that my doubts were assuaged, but unfortunately they were not. I realized, however, FIGT provides a forum for those who, like me, move and seek meaning from the moves they have made. It provides a forum for those who want to help people make the most out of the changes that have beset them. Hearing Doug Ota’s call for a network of Safe Harbors made me wish I had had such a service offered to me upon arrival at one of the many international schools I attended. Claudia Koerbler’s Kitchen Table, in which she shared details of an international school’s response to the refugee crisis in Europe, reassured me that attempts are being made to build bridges between the expat clique and others who move.
While I learnt FIGT is not claiming to represent the stories of all those who move, I think it is nonetheless worth noting that many of the stories told at FIGT are those of the privileged few who move with the security of a job and who often come from the global North. That said, it is invaluable that such a forum exists, for without it we almost certainly would be lost.
Sam Parfitt is a trained anthropologist and freelance writer who has grown up in Dubai, Oman, Norway, England and the Netherlands. He has had articles published in local, national and international newspapers and has written arts reviews for music blogs and student journals. Berlin is his home away from home. London his centre of gravity. He is now looking for full time work in the arts and museums and/or charity sectors while working on a book on the pioneers of Penang for Summertime Publishing.