How Stories can Serve Your Long Term Personal and Organizational Goals
This plenary panel was led by Julia Simens with Mary Bassey, Pamela Bos Kefi, Amy Clare Tasker, Eric Larsen and Adam Geller
Article written by Ellen Beard
Educator, speaker, consultant, and author of Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child: Practical Tips and Storytelling Techniques That Will Strengthen the Global Family, Julia Simens led a panel on the power of storytelling. Each of this year’s Pollock Scholars shared, in story form, snippets of their experience and how storytelling fits into their lives and work.
Mary Bassey, the Hidden TCK
Born of a bi-ethnic marriage in the region of a third ethnicity, Mary immediately found herself living in a cross-cultural situation “before I even stepped foot outside Nigeria.” At age four she moved to Canada for her father’s post-doctoral work. “From there we went to south-central Kentucky, which is not like Canada.” She described a lighthearted story of her brother, after observing Americans using food as endearing terms, call his friend “tomato chicken.”
But there were heavier struggles as well. “I learned I’m not only African, I’m also black.” She described her first encounters with racial identity through interactions with the KKK and other forms of social hierarchy in America. Because she appeared African American, she had to play to those scripts. “It was weird to come to terms with a history that wasn’t really mine,” she recalled. She described the many complex layers of her identity that looked different depending on the context. “To feel foreign in your own country is weird.”
Finally, in a university cultural anthropology class she came across the term Third Culture Kid (TCK) for those who are given multiple different scripts. This revolutionized her identity and has led her on a path to embracing her whole self and using her experiences to open up regular conversation about race, gender, culture and social hierarchy. “I’m just living my truth and taking up space unapologetically,” rather than tailoring her conversations to the comfort level of others or what is socially expected of her. As both a writer and advocate, storytelling has become hugely important to Mary’s work.
Pamela Bos Kefi, the Multi-Layered Cultural Explorer
Pamela Bos Kefi told a snapshot version of her life story and how many different layers of cross-cultural experiences she has had. Growing up in the United States, her first cross-cultural experience was serving in the Peace Corps in Tunisia after graduating from university. From there, her life spiraled into a plethora of new cultural experiences. She began a bi-cultural marriage with her Arabic teacher there and they moved to the United States to raise bi-racial, bi-cultural children. “My personal and professional [lives] have helped inform each other over the years.”
Observing the struggles of cross-cultural confusion within her own family and the outside environment, she became interested in helping those in cross-cultural transition. She began working with refugees and immigrant families, helping them to adjust to the United States. Another complex layer of culture was added when her family moved to work in Haiti. She is currently back in the US continuing to work with refugees, where storytelling is vital to training her staff and interacting with those they serve. “I have dipped my toe in many aspects of cross-cultural living. It’s a journey and I don’t know what’s happening next.”
Amy Clare Tasker, the “Tennis-Match TCK”
Amy told of her experiences growing up as a British girl back and forth between the UK and the United States and constantly struggling with the question of where she belonged. “I grew up in the States, and I have a very American way of thinking at times. And then at times in the States I have a very English way of thinking.” Although she noticed differences within herself, she said, “I hadn’t really considered myself a traditional TCK because I only speak English” and had only lived in two countries. Studying abroad in England during university, “I learned very quickly not to say I’m from Manchester” despite being born there. “But I’ve heard the phrase ‘TCK is a feeling’, and I have the feeling.” She has been using storytelling in the form of theater-making for both self-discovery and catharsis among other TCKs who struggle with the question “where is home?” She concluded, “really, we’re all trying to find where we belong” so we should expand the tent for the term TCK to include those who might not be aware they could belong with TCKs.
Eric Larsen and the Red Chameleon
Eric began with the image of his pet chameleon from growing up in Kenya and Australia as a missionary kid from the US. He would try and get the chameleon to change colors, just as a TCK adapts to new environments. However, trying to make the chameleon change to the unnatural color of red was impossible and would cause it great distress, just as a TCK often undergoes during times of transition and cultural confusion. He compared changing unnatural colors to suppressing the feelings of struggle and moving on rather than naturally processing grief.
In the process of moving back from Australia to the US for university, he described his familiar experience of “being still, being silent, boxing everything up, and changing colors. And it was killing me.” However, the story continues to joyful resolution later in life. He received a call for a short job back in Australia “so now all of a sudden, 15 years later, the boxes get unpacked.” He finished his story discussing the beauty of meta-narratives. “It was a divine conspiracy, to get me back there to unpack the boxes.” Even though his story growing up overseas seemed to be finished and packed away at age 18, he found wonderful closure later on in life. C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien are his favorite authors because they beautifully express smaller stories within larger meta-narratives of hope and redemption just as in the whole of life.
Adam Geller on Unity in Diversity
Through academia, Adam has been exploring literature in addition to personal experiences to “unpack the very complicated manifestations of third culture.” He is in the process of demonstrating in the skeptical academic world that people can both discuss their differences and disagreements as well as temporarily set them aside to simply enjoy a peaceful meal together. He tells the story of his house growing up in Australia full of immigrants from many different cultures, ethnicities and religions that were able to form remarkable bonds of an “international family.” He believes this phenomenon works in smaller scales, like specific homes, but also larger scales like the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference. With intentional action, this environment can be replicated at even larger global scales.
Julia Simens’ website www.jsimens.com
Amy Clare Tasker’s reflection of FIGT www.amyclaretasker.com/2016/03/families-in-global-transition-conference-2016/
Mary Bassey’s website www.verilymerrilymary.com
Adam Geller’s co-authored blog post www.thirdcultureliterature.blogspot.com
Pamela’s website for Jewish Family Service www.jfsbuffalo.org
Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child: Practical Tips and Storytelling Techniques That Will Strengthen the Global Family, Julia Simens, Summertime Publishing, 2011
Read Mary’s poem ‘Tales of a Black Third Culture Kid’ published in The Worlds Within – An Anthology of TCK Art and Writing: Young Global and Between Cultures, Edited by Jo Parfitt and Eva Laszlo-Herbert, Summertime Publishing, 2014
Ellen Beard grew up in multifaceted Osh, Kyrgyzstan and flourishing Hanoi, Vietnam, and now studies psychology, interdisciplinary art, and humanities for her bachelor's degree at Azusa Pacific University in Southern California. As an American-Asian artist, her diverse background, eclectic experiences and challenging education have developed in her a passion for learning, harmony, and all things international. Currently working in various research assistant positions and TCK student leadership roles, she aspires to use her growing skills in the areas of psychology and the arts to pursue harmony among people of all conditions of mental health, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.