A showcase of FIGT Members' written work, focusing on the issues we study, the best practices we share, and the strategies we provide to support expatriates and cross cultural individuals and their families. Contributions are a privilege for Small Business and Corporate membership levels only and you can submit up to 3 posts per year. Please use our online form below to submit a blog for consideration or contact blogeditor@figt.org.

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  • 10 Jul 2020 2:05 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    The FIGT Research Affiliate held a virtual webinar with Dr. Mari Korpela on 26 June to reflect on how socioeconomic differences may impact the TCK experience.

    Speaker photos and event title: Do class differences matter for TCKs

    The FIGT Research Network (FRN) Affiliate held an online seminar on 26 June 2020 with Dr. Mari Korpela to reflect on the impact of socioeconomic differences on the Third Culture Kid (TCK) experience. Dr. Sachiko Horiguchi and Dr. Danau Tanu joined as discussants and Sarah Gonzales, Chair of the FIGT Research Network, hosted the event.


    The diversity among TCKs

    The prevailing image of TCKs and expat kids is of privileged, globe-trotting children who take pride in feeling at home in airports. While there is some emerging awareness of the diversity in the experiences of TCKs, much has been left unsaid about differences among TCKs. 

    In reality, some TCKs are not as privileged or well off as others. Many grow up under circumstances very different from those of the globe-trotting image, depending on their home or host countries and why and how their families move across borders.

    Mari, an anthropologist studying transnational mobility, had been working with the mobility literature throughout her career. She came across the term “TCK” when she was already conducting her research among “Western” children in India. 

    She pointed out that the widely used definition for “TCK” implies—but does not necessarily spell out—that the TCKs are relatively privileged. However, TCKs are a much more diverse group than is usually acknowledged, as she is finding through her research in India, and Finland.


    “Western” children in Goa, India

    Mari conducted ten months of ethnographic research among 4-12-year-old lifestyle migrant children in Goa, India (2011-2013). Lifestyle migrants are people who move abroad to find what they define as a better quality of life, namely, a more relaxed and more meaningful life (Benson & O’Reilly 2009). 

    These children fit well the definition of a TCK because they are spending a significant proportion of their developmental years in a culture other than their parents’ culture and they are relatively privileged. However, they are different from the “typical” TCK whose parents are career expatriates or representatives of their country or organization abroad.

    The children are privileged in having passports that enable them to easily cross international borders. The families can also afford a higher standard of living in Goa—an important reason why they prefer living there instead of in their passport countries. 

    At the same time, these families are vulnerable because their incomes based on the (informal) tourism industry are susceptible to circumstances, and their residence statuses are insecure as the families need to renew their visas frequently and can never be sure which kind of a visa will be given each time. 


    TCKs in Finland

    Since September 2019, Mari has been conducting ethnographic research on TCKs in Finland. Finnish companies recruit highly skilled professionals from abroad to work temporarily in the country and many are accompanied by their spouses and children. 

    Finland is unique in that many international schools are free municipal schools. These schools host a diverse student population: some children are from much more affluent families than others, and there are observable differences among TCKs in their economic and material circumstances. 

    The experiences of these TCKs can differ depending on the family’s situation, motivation and background. Some families invest money and resources in their lives in Finland; others view their stay in Finland as temporary and do not aim to have the same material standard of living in Finland as they did in their passport countries, to which they intend to return. 


    Differences in TCK families’ situations

    Mari pointed out that nowadays, many families move internationally as career expatriates but without luxurious expatriate packages from their employers. That is, they are skilled professionals who work in relatively well-paying jobs but whose employers do not pay for all, or any, of the families’ travel and living costs. 

    The situation of each expatriate family depends on many variables such as the parents’ work contracts and affiliated benefits, the privileges allowed in a particular country, and each family’s economic situation. Moreover, race, ethnicity, and nationality affect the expatriates’ position in complex ways, shaping the experiences of the TCKs.

    Mari stressed that we need to pay attention to such differences among TCKs and to examine what the position of assumed privilege means. One can be both privileged and restricted or marginalized at the same time. 

    Mari advised researchers to be careful to avoid making a priori assumptions on the TCKs’ status and position when formulating interview questions or questionnaires. 

    She also emphasized the importance of long-term ethnographic research; only with time can one gain insights into the subtle differences among TCKs. 

    Mari ended her presentation by noting that it is important to include young children in TCK studies. They may not be able to reflect on their identities in the same way as teenagers or young adults do but there is much more to the TCK experience than identity issues. Young TCKs are living as TCKs here and now, and therefore, their views and experiences on their international lives are highly valuable. 


    Reference

    Benson M and O’Reilly K (2009). Migration and the search for a better way of life: A critical exploration of lifestyle migration. Sociological Review 57(4): 608–625.

    Speaker bios

    profile pic of Dr Mari KorpelaMari Korpela, PhD, is a social anthropologist and an Academy Research Fellow at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Tampere University, Finland. She has extensive research experience among lifestyle migrants and expatriates. Mari is also the President of the Finnish Anthropological Society and the Director of the Lifestyle Migration Hub hosted by Tampere University (research.tuni.fi/lifestyle/). Her current research project is titled, Expatriate Childhood: Children's Experiences of Temporary Migration.

    profile pic of Dr Sachiko Horiguchi, discussantSachiko Horiguchi, PhD, is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Temple University Japan Campus. She obtained a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford under the supervision of Professor Roger Goodman, a leading scholar on the kikokushijo (a Japanese term for returnee children). Sachiko’s research interests lie in social and medical anthropology, focusing on youth mental health issues, education, and emerging multiculturalism in contemporary Japan.

    profile pic of Dr Danau TanuDanau Tanu, PhD, is the author of Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School and an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Social Sciences of the University of Western Australia. She has published ethnographic studies on Third Culture Kids and mixed-race identities and was recently awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at Waseda University by the Japan Foundation. Danau is a Co-Chair of the FIGT Research Network.

    profile pic of Sarah GonzalesSarah Gonzales is Director of Graduate Programs at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) School of Law. She also serves at NAFSA: Association for International Educators, teaching Intercultural Communication in Practice, Admissions and Placement of International Students, and Assessment and Evaluation for International Educators. Sarah is currently pursuing doctoral research on the intersection of cultural intelligence and mediation skills of TCKs. She is Chair of the FIGT Research Network.


    FIGT Research Network aims to bring together producers and consumers of research that promotes cross-sector connections to support the growth, success and well-being of people crossing cultures around the world. Its first 2020 webinar was on “‘Third Culture Kids’: The History & Future of the Term in Research.”

    If you would like to connect or join our future events, please visit our FRN webpage

  • 03 Jul 2020 11:02 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    FIGT outlines the steps we plan to take to explore how our community might respond to racism, inequities, disparities, and discrimination around the world. We start out with two ‘Conversations for Change.’

    FIGT: Talking about equity, image of many colorful people figures holding hands

    In the weeks since George Floyd’s death, many were spurred into protesting, listening, and learning about racism, not just in the United States but around the world. During this time, FIGT’s leadership has also been considering how we as a community might respond, not just to racism, but also to inequities, disparities, and discrimination—and the many ways they appear around the world. 

    Like all of you, we have been listening and learning. We are grateful to everyone who has shared their experiences and passion with us, and our community of members.

    At our most recent Board meeting, which was devoted to this topic, we agreed to the following steps. We believe that these are in line with our commitment to being an opening and welcoming forum for all, and supporting the growth, success, and well-being of the globally mobile community.

    We will:

    • Form a small task force of FIGT Members who would like to help us think strategically and longer-term about disparity, and our response as the FIGT global community.

    • Host two virtual meetings on these issues, open to all in our community to attend.

    • Include a Focus theme on expat privilege & equality in October.

    • Share resources from a wider range of racially diverse voices on our social media platforms and run regular checks on the diversity of voices reflected in our blogs and other content.

    • Gather data regarding the racial and ethnic diversity of the expatriate community.


    ‘Conversations for Change’

    ‘Conversations for Change’ will be a short series of virtual discussions, open to all in our community. Each meeting will begin with a short presentation to stimulate our thinking and will then be open for conversation.

    Our goal is that each discussion will be a starting point for gathering together individuals with a heart to work towards change. 


    Introducing Conversations for Change - a message from FIGT President, Dawn Bryan




    Events details and registration

    Flyer of event with Ezinne Kwubiri

    Working for Equity – Global Mobility and Organisations

    July 14th at 9.30 am New York / 4.30 pm Athens / 8:30 pm Bangkok

    To find the time for your location, click here.

    Conversation Host LaShell Tinder with Ezinne Kwubiri.

    As well as being Treasurer for FIGT, LaShell is the Head of Global Mobility for North America at H&M. Her colleague Ezinne is the Head of Diversity and Inclusion and was scheduled to be one of the keynote speakers at FIGT2020.

    REGISTER NOW


    Flyer for virtual event with Danau Tanu

    Working for Equity – International Schools and Education

    July 29th at 8:00 am Perth / 7:00 am Bangkok / 8:00 pm New York (July 28th)

    To find the time for your location, click here.

    Conversation Host Trisha Carter and Danau Tanu.

    Trisha is the Executive Secretary for FIGT and an Organisational Psychologist, Danau is an Anthropologist who has written the book, Growing up in Transit - The Politics of Belonging at an International School. Danau was scheduled to be our opening keynote speaker at FIGT2020.

    REGISTER NOW
  • 26 Jun 2020 3:19 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Finding friendships as expats can be challenging. But friendships abroad are essential to make our expat experience more joyful and fulfilling!

    Decorative image of women blowing confetti together

    By Gabriela Encina 

    Finding friendships as expats can be challenging. We struggle in search of people we can feel attached to and connected with. Sometimes we find “prospects” and then have second thoughts (or the other way around). But friendship abroad is essential to make our expat experience more joyful and fulfilling.

    The dilemma: Finding “new friends”

    Meeting new people and establishing deep attachments—it's not always easy. It can happen like magic, an instant hookup. But often, it needs time, energy, patience, and assertiveness.

    A strong and deep relationship needs time to develop: time and regularity, especially at the beginning. Most likely we have little of both to spare, as family and work demand a lot of our energy and time. 

    And when we finally have some time for ourselves, we want quality—ergo, no time to lose on “waiting” for friends.

    What I mean by waiting is having patience. We need opportunities to show vulnerability, open ourselves, build trust, and get to know the person.

     

    Why are expat friendships important?

    Having our own friends can give us a sense of independence. It can help create our own space and social life, necessary for our self-esteem and confidence.

    When we become expats, we often don't have a strong support network, except maybe our partner and/or our company (colleagues). No wonder loneliness is one of the top-three concerns of expats. It's challenging to find and maintain deep connections in a new country.

    Feeling lonely doesn't mean being alone. It has to do less with being surrounded by people and more with how willing we are to show ourselves as vulnerable and flawed.

    When you let yourself be vulnerable with someone, you develop skills like empathy and compassion and discover inner resources to cope with the challenges of life abroad.

     

    How to find meaningful expat friendships & maintain them

    So here are some tips on finding and maintaining expat friendships—proven by my clients and me!

    1. Spend time in the places YOU want to hang out

    Clubs, cafés, parks, gym...whatever YOU love doing. If you meet someone there, it will probably be a great conversation starter, and you already have something in common.

    2. Give a second and even a third chance before “saying no” to someone

    Bear in mind that the people you are meeting have probably similar dilemmas as you. Maybe they are nervous. Some people are “not so good” at first impressions. Give them (and yourself) the chance to feel more comfortable after meeting up two or three times.

    3. Allow yourself (in fact, I encourage you) to be vulnerable

    Deep connection can only develop if you show yourself and your nuances, the lights and the shadows. Have the privilege to know people and give them the chance to know the real vulnerable you!

    4. Take the initiative (and be persistent)

    You have an interest in finding friends and acquaintances abroad. If you meet and say, “let's do this again sometime,” then be intentional about contacting the person. Suggest things that you've wanted to do where you're currently living.

    5. Don' t focus on how long you are going to stay in this country

    You will surely miss the opportunity of meeting new people if you worry about that. Create and cultivate deep bonds and interactions, it doesn't matter for how long. Besides, you never know when you may meet again!

    6. Accept that sometimes it just doesn't work

    We can't click and connect with everyone, even when we try real hard. Maybe that person was not the best one for you at this moment in time. There will be other people willing to share their time and friendship with you. I know it!

     

    What about your friends back home?

    Despite trying to keep in touch, we sometimes have the feeling that we are “losing” the people we left in our home country when we live abroad. If you are dealing with this fear of losing your friends, you can:

    1. Be honest with them about your fear of growing apart 

    Ask them what they think about it.

    2. Share what you are going through, the lights and shadows of your expat life

    They appreciate your honesty, and even if they worry, they prefer you to be sincere.

    3. Be intentional about keeping in touch

    Organize virtual (and regular) dates via video conferences. Take time for it, at least one hour every time. Remind them a couple of days before. It might seem a little “unfair” always to take the initiative, but you know it brings you joy!

     

    Please, never forget to stay true to yourself and what YOU want for your life. I know there are loads of tips about finding friends. They usually recommend going to meetings, meet locals, be open-minded, go outside, etc. But if you are an introvert, perhaps those tips are not ideal for you. 

    Be aware of what you are feeling, what your needs are, and what YOU want for your life abroad.

     

    By your side,

    Gabriela

     

    Gabriela, psychologist and expat coach, is originally from Chile, became an Austrian citizen because of love, and currently lives in Spain. She provides online counseling and coaching since 2019 and has more than 7 years of experience working with expats and their partners so they feel at home, wherever they are! 

    A version of this article first appeared on Gabriela’s blog.

  • 22 Jun 2020 2:11 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Families in Global Transition appreciates the generosity of our sponsors, each of whom supports and sustains our globally mobile, cross-cultural community.

    Earlier this year, American Psychologist / Burdick Psychological and Placement Services, led by founder and adult Third Culture Kid Dr. Mark Burdick, renewed their Silver Sponsorship yet again! 

    American Psychologist is a family-based, concierge psychological services provider, consultancy, and education and treatment placement agency. 

    Some children have emotional or learning issues, some are bright and need additional challenges, some need a different educational fit, and some have addiction issues. American Psychologist serves families worldwide, and provides continuing support during and after placement.

    Mark is a dual-credentialed educational and licensed psychologist in the US, serves in the capacity of EU Agent and Independent Educational Consultant touring and regularly communicating with schools/programs domestically and internationally, and is also a UK Chartered Psychologist. 

    “Whether it’s for assessment and expert recommendation for treatment or education, we’ve been providing solutions to expats for over 30 years,” Mark shared. “American Psychologist travels the globe – yes, making house calls – to help support expat families at risk, including with one of our unique services of addiction support.” 

    This time, Mark is joined in sponsoring by Steven DeMille, Ph.D. LCMHC, a colleague and Executive Director of RedCliff Ascent, who specializes in wilderness-based family therapy. Steven has contributed a chapter on the practical use of that therapy in Family Therapy with Adolescents in Residential Treatment.

    We welcome back American Psychologist as a returning sponsor, thank Mark and Steven for their continued support of FIGT, and look forward to seeing and hearing more from them in the year ahead!

    FIGT is grateful to have incredible sponsors who understand the experiences and needs of the globally mobile community. For more information about sponsorship opportunities, please visit our sponsorship page.

  • 16 Jun 2020 4:53 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    The FIGT Research Affiliate kicked off a series of virtual webinars with Dr. Danau Tanu leading a discussion on the concept of “TCK”—its history and its possible future in research.

    The FIGT Research Network (FRN) Affiliate kicked off its online seminar series on 29 May 2020 with Dr. Danau Tanu and guest discussants, Dr. Gertina J. van Schalwyk and Dr. Mari Korpela, on the term “Third Culture Kids”—its history and future in research.

    The session, hosted by Dr. Anastasia Lijadi, FIGT Research and Education Director, with the help of Sarah Gonzales, Co-Chair of FRN, was joined by an audience of over 75 people that included researchers and practitioners.

    It encouraged researchers to rigorously consider the analytical usefulness and pitfalls of the concept “Third Culture Kid” and addressed questions such as:

    • “How do I convince my graduate supervisor that ‘Third Culture Kids (TCKs)” is a valid research topic?”
    • “Why has the concept of TCKs taken off in the public realm but not in academia?”

     

    Tensions, divisions, and silos

    Danau, an anthropologist, began by pointing out an underlying tension surrounding the use of the term “TCK,” between a desire to be inclusive of other experiences—a wider circle that includes other “cross-cultural kids” (CCKs), so named by Dr. Ruth Van Reken, co-author of Third Culture Kids—and the desire to clearly define the boundaries of what constitutes a “Third Culture Kid,” especially when it comes to research.

    Another peculiar phenomenon Danau highlighted was the way those researching “TCKs” rarely engage with the broader body of knowledge on mobility and experiences of feeling “in between” and “growing up among worlds,” just as researchers in other related fields don’t tap into the growing knowledge and insights on TCKs since the term first entered the public consciousness in the 1970s.

    Figure 1 TCK studies & other fields have many commonalities

     

    The history of the “third culture kid” concept in research

    In an attempt to explore these tensions and get us thinking about how best to use the “third culture kid” concept in research and translate that knowledge into practical use, Danau took us back in history to the origin of the term (see the bibliography at the end of this article).

    Danau began by sharing excerpts from the publications of Dr. Ruth Hill Useem, the sociologist who coined the term “third culture children” in 1973 and who then modified it to “Third-Culture Kids” in a 1976 publication co-authored with Dr. Richard D. Downie.

    Going further back to 1955, Danau then showed excerpts from the first work published by Ruth and her husband and fellow sociologist Dr. John Useem on western-educated Indian men and their experiences of crossing culture, some as adults and others as children.

    What was most striking about these original works was the deftness with which the Useems handled the diversity of backgrounds and experiences among those who practiced the “third culture” as adults, as well as those who were socialized into it as children.

    The Useems (at times with a third colleague) in the 1960s also explored the notion of the “third culture,” whose diverse incarnations can be seen in the motley set of adjectives that the sociologist pair attached to the term including: “colonial third culture”, “paracolonial third culture”, “binational third culture”, “global third culture”, and so on.


    Disentangling the “third culture” concept from the “Third Culture Kid” identity

    So, what were the key takeaways?

    Given that concepts are merely tools to help us understand sociological phenomena, Danau encouraged future scholars to consider disentangling the concept of the “third culture” from the increasing use of the term “Third Culture Kid” as an identity label.

    She suggests that this may allow for more flexibility in how we study this growing population. When we realize that scholarly fields have much more in common with each other than we currently acknowledge, it may bridge the gulf that currently exists between those studying so-called “TCKs” and those studying other people crossing culture.

    Figure 2 Differentiate between the identity label & the analytical concept

     

    Advice for young scholars

    Following Danau’s talk, the discussants contributed their pieces of wisdom. Both Gertina, a psychologist, and Mari, an anthropologist, encouraged younger scholars to keep in mind that even the notion of “culture” is not set in stone—it is fluid, eternally changing, and hard to pin down—and to not lose sight of the fact that their boundaries are socially constructed.

    Gertina warned researchers of different disciplines to avoid working in their own silos and recognize that humans are complex beings who need to be understood from different perspectives—psychological, anthropological, sociological, etc.

    Mari also advised graduate students to learn to frame their research proposals using concepts that are familiar to their supervisor’s study disciplines to ensure that the proposals are understood.

    The session concluded with a general agreement that thinking more critically about the terms is important to both researchers and practitioners.

    As Dr. Ruth Van Reken once advised Danau on how to work through issues that may seem contentious:

    “Start with the similarities—with what we share—then work through the differences. That way, you’ll be able to find your way back to the similarities.”


    If you would like to join future events organized by the FIGT Research Network (FRN) Affiliate, please go to the FRN webpage to find out how you can stay informed. 


    How to cite this seminar

    Tanu, Danau. (2020) “Third Culture Kids”: The History & Future of the Term in Research. Families in Global Transition Research Network Affiliate. [Inaugural virtual seminar, 29 May 2020.]

     

    A bibliography of publications on the history of the term “Third Culture Kid”

    Cottrell, Ann. (n.d., circa 2007) Dr. Ruth Hill Useem – the sociologist/anthropologist who first coined the term “Third Culture Kid”. In TCK World: The Official Home of Third Culture Kids. [Retrieved from http://www.tckworld.com/useem/home.html on 27 May 2020.]

    Pollock, David, Van Reken, Ruth E., & Pollock, Michael V. (2017) Appendix A: History and Evolution of Third Culture and Third Culture Kids Concepts: Then and Now. In David Pollock, Ruth E. Van Reken, & Michael V. Pollock, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. [See FIGT's online bookstore.]

    Tanu, Danau. (2015) Toward an Interdisciplinary Analysis of the Diversity of “Third Culture Kids”. In Saija Benjamin & Fred Dervin, Migration, Diversity, and Education: Beyond Third Culture Kids. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Tanu, Danau. (2018) Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School. New York: Berghahn Books. [Note: A discussion of the history of the term “Third Culture Kids” can be found in the “Introduction”, which is downloadable for free from the publisher’s website. The book itself is an anthropological application of the postcolonial perspective on the study of Third Culture Kids. See FIGT’s online bookstore for a discount code for the paperback to be released in December 2020 and a link to the publisher’s website.]

     

     

    Speaker bios

    Danau Tanu, PhD, is the author of Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia. She is also the Co-Chair of the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Research Network Affiliate.

    Gertina J van Schalkwyk, DPhil, is the chief editor of the International Journal of School and Education Psychology, and a former Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Macau. 

    Mari Korpela, PhD, is a social anthropologist and an Academy Research Fellow at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Tampere University, Finland. Mari is also the President of the Finnish Anthropological Society and the Director of the Lifestyle Migration Hub hosted by Tampere University.

    Anastasia Aldelina Lijadi, PhD, is a psychologist and a research scholar in the World Population Department at the International Institute of Applied System Analysis in Austria. She is also the Research and Education Director of FIGT.


    (Written by DT; edited by EN)

  • 27 May 2020 4:55 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    As a therapist and digital nomad, Dr. Sonia Jaeger finds her lifestyle and identity challenged by the global pandemic. While acknowledging how hard these times can be, she still finds joy in life, especially in her online community of colleagues.

    By Dr. Sonia Jaeger

    Being a therapist in times of COVID-19 is hard. We might not work on the front lines, but we aren’t that far behind, really. 

    Being a digital nomad in times of COVID-19 is hard. Traveling freely and often is at the core of our lifestyle and identity. 

    Yes, these were my first thoughts when invited to write about “finding joy in challenging times.” While I spend a lot of my time these days finding joy and focusing on the good, I do want to start by acknowledging how hard these times are. 

    Challenging times are called challenging for a reason. I see it too often: people are so intent on finding the positive aspects of a challenge and on the growth opportunity that they forget to make space for all those negative feelings, for the uncertainty, the fear, and so so much grief. 

    Once we give ourselves that space, then we can, and should, focus on the things that bring us joy—and there are so many things, from the very small to the very big, that can bring us joy even in the most challenging of times. 

    But, again, it’s ok if you don’t use a worldwide pandemic to start a new side business, freelancing career, or hobby. It’s ok if you keep going through all the emotions, sometimes multiple times a day.

     

    ... people are so intent on finding the positive aspects of a challenge ... that they forget to make space for all those negative feelings ... and so so much grief.


    So, to get back to the initial question, where do I find joy in these challenging times? 

    I find joy in my work and in my online counseling clients who use their skills to survive and sometimes even thrive in these times. I find joy in the shared laughter and the moments where something just clicks and things start to change. I find joy in the fact that yes, we are all in this together. 

    I find joy in the fact that as a digital nomad and psychologist working online, the transition might have been a bit easier for my clients and for me. I have been providing online counseling for years now, so while everything else might have changed, I did not also have to reinvent or transition my professional life. 

    I find joy in nature. I was lucky enough to happen to visit the French countryside when things started to evolve very quickly with COVID-19, and I was lucky enough to be able to stay as long as needed. 

    I find joy in the coffee I hand grind every morning, I find joy in the birds and insects I watch and listen to while drinking my coffee.


    Sometimes, all it takes is a shared space to acknowledge how hard this is.


    But overall, my biggest joy and lifesaver in these challenging times has been my international community of Location Independent Therapists. Having these colleagues by my side every step of the way, catching up multiples times a week in our business meetups, virtual coworking sessions, book club, happy hours, and peer-supervision calls and in writing in between. 

    I find joy in seeing their faces and hearing their thoughts and feelings. I find joy in connecting across countries, continents, and time zones and hearing more about what it’s actually like right now in so many corners of the world. 

    I find joy in helping each other work through these challenging times, taking care of ourselves, our families and friends, taking care of each other and of our clients. Sometimes, all it takes is a shared space to acknowledge how hard this is. And to take a deep breath together. 

    Our location-independent therapist community has also been a great reminder that yes, while we are all in this together, each of our experiences is absolutely unique, and vastly influenced by the country and region we live in, who is stuck at home with us and how big of a disruption to our lives this is, how many plans we had to put on hold and how well equipped we are to handle uncertainty and restrictions of freedom.


    ... there are so many things, from the very small to the very big, that can bring us joy even in the most challenging of times


    I find joy in all those colleagues who got to experience how well counselling can work online and in all those people, who suddenly realized that their job may actually be done remotely after all. 

    I find joy in seeing and hearing from all those who see this as a great opportunity to finally start their own online business. I find joy in those colleagues who also know that they don’t have to do it alone.

    I find joy in all those friends and relatives who got a crash course in digital life and suddenly related a bit more to how I live. 

    Finally, I find joy in knowing that all feelings are welcome and that anxiety, sadness, and joy are never really far apart, especially in challenging times. 


    Photo of Sonia Jaeger by Zsanett Kovacs PhotographyA German-French psychologist, psychotherapist and PhD, Sonia has been living a location-independent life as a digital nomad for the past five years while providing online counselling to expats and other globally mobile clients in German, French and English. Sonia is the co-host of the podcast “Mit Psychologie und Laptop um die Welt” where she and her colleague Carolin Müller talk about the reality of digital nomad life and their work as digital nomad psychologists. 

    In early 2020 Sonia co-founded the Location Independent Therapists (LIT) Community with fellow FIGT member Melissa Parks, PhD, connecting mental health professionals across the globe, helping them grow their location independent business. LIT will be opening up their community 1-5 June 2020, so keep an eye on their space!

    (Photo credit for Sonia's portrait: Zsanett Kovacs Photography)

  • 23 Apr 2020 12:42 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Transitioning to become a stay-at-home spouse in a foreign country can be isolating. One expat shares her story of how volunteering helped her find a new community and settle in.

    By Ema Naito-Bhakdi


    You’re living in a foreign country because of your spouse’s job. You don’t speak enough of the local language, and your visa doesn’t allow you to work. And you’ve taken on a new role as a stay-at-home caregiver.

    The transition from “working” to “stay-at-home” (often used as a synonym for “unemployed”!) can be tough, even if you weren’t in a foreign country. But that foreignness can add another layer of isolation—linguistically, culturally, physically, and professionally.

    My days as a stay-at-home mom in Thailand revolved around nursing and feeding, potty training, sleep training, transporting the kids to/from kindergarten, and planning/supervising/joining play (I’m eternally thankful for our household help!). They were all worthy activities to grow a functional human being—but I was bored.

    Deprived of adult conversation and thought, I felt stagnant. Even when I had an adult to talk with, all I seemed capable of was to babble about baby poo and sleep. I bored myself.

    Breaking out of my comfort zone

    LESSON: You might have to go out of your comfort zone, but taking the plunge may lead you to unexpected places.

    Seasoned expats know that volunteering is one great way to get out there, make new friends, earn the satisfaction of doing something meaningful, and find one’s sense of belonging. 

    But sometimes, it’s not easy to take that first step. Inertia, shyness, the sheer exhaustion of parenting young children, fear...there are so many reasons that can keep you back. 

    My biggest mental block was fear—of having to meet so many strangers, of adjusting to yet another world, of not being good enough to do the job. 

    It took me until the post-birth high of baby no.3 to muster up the courage to volunteer for an English-language parenting support organization, as assistant editor for their monthly magazine. 

    A year later, I found myself editor in chief, responsible for producing a 60-page magazine every month for our over-500 member families.

    Once again, fear stopped me. Despite enjoying editing and knowing how to manage projects, I didn’t think I had the professional background to be the big EDITOR IN CHIEF. It took a bit of encouragement from my husband (who probably later regretted it) before I could go once again out of my comfort zone and give it a go.

    The payback was more than I could ever have imagined. I got to try out new skills and develop old ones, gain experience to add to my resume, and earn acknowledgment and respect from my peers.

    And seeing many of my fellow volunteers pursue their interests and passions through and after their experience with the organization in new, reinvented careers gave me the courage to strike out into a new career too.

    Digging in, finding my new community

    LESSON: Volunteering can give you a sense of belonging—the more so, the deeper you engage.

    Being the editor meant I had to attend monthly managing committee meetings, and the introvert in me recoiled at the prospect of meeting so many new people. 

    But then I discovered we were all in the same boat: we were professional women (men were also welcome, but it was usually women) who couldn’t work in Thailand and who were keeping our professional selves alive by running the organization. Volunteering gave us an outlet for our itch to make use of our skills and experiences, for the good our community of expat parents.

    I came to look forward to the committee meetings. To be in the room with women who were passionate about their work was stimulating and inspiring. And this energizing component was entirely missing from my first, lighter role as an assistant editor working remotely from home.

    Expat knowledge tells us how important it is to find a community to which we can belong. Full-on engagement with volunteering gave me my new community and the chance to reconnect with my professional identity. 

    Giving and receiving: A two-way street

    Volunteering isn’t all about altruism or pure self-fulfillment. There’s plenty of that, but we shouldn’t shy away from acknowledging what we “get” out of volunteering as well.

    In my case, in exchange for contributing my skills through many hours of labor, I got practical work experience to beef up my resume, created a portfolio of work, secured references for future jobs, and built my network. And made friends!

    (I also appreciated that the organization gave practical privileges to volunteers, such as free entry to their events and invitations to semi-annual appreciation luncheons.)

    A note: volunteering is great but like anything, “fit” is important. If you’ve given it a fair shot but you’re not enjoying your work or it’s not what you had in mind, then I think it’s perfectly ok to step away (but try not to burn your bridges in the process).

    I’ve now left Bangkok but I’m forever grateful to the organization and the wonderful volunteers I’ve got to work alongside there.


    ATCK Ema has found her new volunteering “home” as FIGT blog editor. Now based in Singapore, she is an independent scholarly editor who enjoys classical singing and blogging about raising three cross-cultural, multilingual kids.

  • 10 Apr 2020 11:46 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    In these tumultuous times, the FIGT community virtually connected on 14 March 2020 while wishing we could have been together in Bangkok. FIGT President Dawn Bryan challenged us all to step out of our physical and mental confines to think: How do we help others flourish in this difficult time?


    In early February, faced with the growing severity of the COVID-19 crisis, the Board determined that it was neither safe nor logistically feasible to continue with the FIGT 2020 Conference as planned and made the difficult decision to cancel.

    As a way to connect as a community, FIGT convened an online meetup on 14 March 2020, a day when — under normal circumstances — we would have been together at the 2020 Conference in Bangkok.

    While nothing can match the joy of gathering in person, we were happy to be joined by more than 40 people located in at least 18 countries on four continents (a special kudos to those who were up at 4 AM in Southeast Asia and Australia, as well as those joining in at 5 AM from East Asia!).

    Among the participants were David C Pollock Scholars, FIGT Board members and volunteers, FIGT members, and those who had planned to attend or been scheduled to present at FIGT2020.

    A call to help others flourish

    In opening the hour-long video conference, FIGT President Dawn Bryan reflected how in our global lives we may be physically distant but we have figured out a number of ways to be together in life, work, and spirit. 

    Even though many of us are confined to our homes, Dawn reminded us of the late Caleb Meakins’s FIGT2019 call to ‘change the world’ and challenged us all to step out of our physical and mental confines to think outwards and forwards: How do we help others flourish in this time?

    The elicited responses are too many to be shared in their entirety, but here are some broad ideas:

    • Take responsibility, socially distance oneself and stay at home

    • Dispel myths circulating on social media and messaging app groups; instead, spread correct information

    • Help out those who are most vulnerable: Check in on the elderly, those who are immune-compromised, alone, or parenting alone; grocery shop for them; help out in other ways

    • Stay in touch: Regularly call and connect with family, friends, and colleagues, no matter their location; organize virtual meetups for people stuck at home (e.g., a book club for kids)

    • Share resources and expertise online, translate useful information into different languages

    • Share fun and positivity — a meme, a video, a joke

    • Be mindful, practice compassion, be grateful

    • Recognize and respect other people’s grief, even if it doesn’t seem like a ‘worst-case’ situation

    • Take the time to reassure one’s children and help them adjust to the new normal

    As for the FIGT team, we aim to continue providing our community with valuable resources and information for these times!

    Plans for the future

    FIGT Programs Director Valérie Besanceney and Vice President Jodi Harris both thanked the FIGT sponsors and community for their understanding and support following the decision to cancel FIGT2020.

    A virtual conference for 2020 was seriously considered as an alternative, but the FIGT board sadly concluded that there were no feasible, sustainable solutions that could reach our entire FIGT community in a cost-effective manner at this time. For the full announcement, please visit the 2020 conference page.

    FIGT is planning to hold its annual conference next year, however, and all FIGT2020 presenters who wish to present will be automatically accepted.

    We’ll be sharing the latest updates on all these and more through our enewsletter and media channels, so please sign up if you haven’t already.

    Building a RAFT and other resources

    The FIGT community has plenty of experience adapting to change, but transitions are never easy, especially when accompanied by uncertainty and fear.

    Linda Janssen, FIGT Sponsorship Director, explained how the RAFT model—originally introduced by David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken in Third Culture Kids—can help us through changes of all kinds, including transitions induced by the current pandemic. You can read her presentation and handout here.

    FIGT members are providing fantastic resources and sharing their insights, expertise, and support on our social media channels. You are invited to join us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to see the latest video interviews on managing a globally mobile life, connect with others, and share resources and support.

    Members can also log in to the FIGT website to access the archives (the series of presentations on Coping with Difficult Times may be especially of interest; you need to be logged in to open this page) and join the Facebook FIGT Members group (please send a request via FB to join).

    If you would like to get access to these resources and more deeply engage with this wonderful community, please join us at FIGT! We offer various membership options to suit your needs and interests (also see the FAQ).

    Grateful thanks

    FIGT is most grateful for the continued support from its wonderful sponsors who keep us going through thick and thin. Our deep thanks go to:

    Without you, FIGT would not be able to fulfill its mission to support the growth, success, and well-being of people crossing cultures around the world.

    FIGT also acknowledges all the Board members and its nearly 80 volunteers who keep the organization running. A special thanks to FIGT Administrator Judy Rickatson and of course to Ruth Van Reken, the founder of FIGT.

    Most of all, FIGT thanks all of you members who make this the wonderful, supportive community that it is.

    Take care of yourselves and keep changing the world!


    Watch the recording


    There are several ways to engage with FIGT. We look forward to connecting with you!

    Members: Log in to the FIGT website to access the archives (including the videos on Coping with Difficult Times) and join the Facebook FIGT Members group (please send a request via FB to join).

    If you're not yet a member: To get access to these resources and engage with this wonderful community, please join us at FIGT!

    Everyone: Sign up for our enewsletter to get FIGT news updates and follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to see the latest resources.

  • 07 Apr 2020 2:43 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    David C. Pollock Scholar Jessi Vance is founder of the TCK space, Kaleidoscope. She talks about how faith is an important part of the TCK conversation and the incredible opportunity TCKs have to be “bridge builders in a world determined to build walls.”


    How did you hear about FIGT and what inspired you to apply for the Scholarship?

    I’ve been following along FIGT and dreaming of attending a conference for years now! I think Marilyn Gardner was the first person who encouraged me to pursue the scholarship to be able to attend. I applied last year and didn’t get it, so it was very exciting to apply for a second time and get the “yes!” 

    To whoever else is hoping to get involved but got a “no” this year, remember that trying again is worth it! This is a dream five years in the making and there were multiple times along the way that I just thought, “oh well, the FIGT conference isn’t for me,” but here we are and I couldn’t be more grateful. 


    What are your areas of interest?

    I’m a third culture kid (TCK) who grew up in Central Asia, so TCKs are always going to be my first love. I think the cultural complexities are so beautiful and vibrant and a lot of the time we talk too much about the challenges and not enough about the gifts.  

    About 6 years ago I started an organization called Kaleidoscope (www.kldscp.org) to create spaces where TCKs can connect and learn from each other. We’ve partnered with many faith-based organizations over the years, and I’ve always wrestled with the question of how to separate a young person’s story and experiences and personal values from strong faith traditions and expectations. 

    As an organization that’s built on creating safe spaces, how do we welcome the questions and conversations of TCKs with a variety of personal beliefs, family faith traditions, and religious host cultures? 


    How did you get into this field? Why are you passionate about it/why is it important to you? 

    I grew up in such a fascinating mix of cultures! Not only was I part of a conservative Christian missionary community, my upbringing, worldview, and sense of self were also influenced by devout Muslim neighbors and fiercely independent, atheist Russian friends. 

    Faith is such an interesting and important part of a TCK’s world because it can be one of those anchor points that don't change with every transition. In that way it is just as (maybe even MORE) important to engage TCKs in conversations around faith than our single-culture, single-religion peers. 

    As I’ve gone through my own deconstruction and reconstruction of faith, it’s been eye-opening to realize how much of a role these cultures still play in my adult life. I realized that whatever faith journey other TCKs are on, they will have similar influences, both clarifying and challenging. 

    I also have a tendency to want to share what I’m walking through. I’m not close to having any kind of answers or ‘solutions’ but I’m confident that including personal and communal faith in the TCK conversation is vital to individual identity and, not to be overly dramatic, perhaps to global peace as well. 


    What are some key messages you wanted to share at FIGT2020? 

    The biggest take-home message is, as Tayo Rockson says, “use your difference to make a difference.” In the current political, religious, and global climate, humans are looking for more and more ways to alienate one another and  “circle the wagons” with like-minded, lookalike individuals. 

    TCKs have an incredible opportunity to be bridge builders in a world determined to build walls. 

    For me, I identify as Christian, but I have deep respect and love for Muslim people and religion. That was my experience. Maybe yours is the other way around! 

    Either way we have the opportunity, and maybe the responsibility, to be voices that create connections around topics that often lead to division. 


    What’s next for you?

    I’ve just moved out of New York City to a farm in a small town in Massachusetts. So personally, what’s next looks like a lot of walks on the beach, enjoying home-grown egg omelettes and more quiet and fresh air than I’m used to. 

    Kaleidoscope is now taking the training and curriculum that we’ve facilitated at in-person TCK events over the last six years and creating easily accessible products for culturally complex families and leaders anywhere in the world (including a video series, “Faith and your TCK”),  so that’s a whole bunch of “new,” too. 

    It’s never boring around here, but if there’s one thing being an adaptable, globe-trotting kid taught me, it’s that those are the best moments in life. 


    Can you share a random piece of info about yourself, please? 

    I love to read. Preferably at an outdoor table of a little French cafe, but more often on an airplane or in between Zoom meetings. In a profession that keeps me connected to screens more than I’d prefer, it’s so nice to decompress with a good book! 

    As I’ve reread some of my childhood favorites I realized how many of them featured storylines with TCK themes. Even before I knew what a TCK was I could resonate with these culturally complex literary characters! 

    Come connect with me on Instagram @jessi_rue, I’d love to hear what you’re currently reading. Of course follow along with Kaleidoscope @kldscp, too! 


    ALSO: Read Jessi's bio and learn about the other 2020 Scholars and watch Jessi talk about the role of faith in a TCK's life (FIGT Members can log in to the website to access the video).

    FIGT focused on the theme “TCKs” for March 2020. Please join us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to access more engaging stories and videos (publicly available for the month and then archived to the members’ only section of this website).

  • 02 Apr 2020 6:49 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    We may feel alone in these extraordinary times but are lucky our world is well connected and hugely supportive. 

    You don’t need to look far for resources, support and open doors in challenging times like this. All around the world, we are all daily appreciating connectivity and technology. 

    You can work out in your living room if you’re willing to move a bit of furniture. You can chat with your distant relatives if you have time to schedule it into the week alongside schoolwork, housework and paid work.

    If you are home-schooling, there is a plethora of resources out there. Here, setting a schedule and employing a level of flexibility is key. These days will remain in our minds for a long time, and our children will remember them vividly. So let’s give them things to look back on fondly. 

    As a community of people who thrive on new experiences and the challenge of immersing ourselves in new situations and cultures, being told we must stay at home can affect us in ways we had not envisaged. We have been described as ‘stimulus junkies’ and at times like this, we may feel particularly lethargic and uninspired. Or for some of us, the global lockdown may have brought home just how vulnerable we are to circumstances and location. 

    Especially when we think of the medical personnel, those who have had to flee civil war, those working for non-compliant employers…all those who are facing particularly tough challenges, it can feel as if things won’t be quite the same when we are out and about again. 

    So, be easy on yourselves and remember that you’re not alone: everyone across the world is feeling the effects of this virus. Enjoy slowing down, building resilience, feeling yourself adapt to the current reality and looking forward to restrictions being lifted!

    While the restrictions continue, please make the most of the amazing resources that our online community has to share. FIGT is the perfect community in which to find connection, support and gratitude.


    Stay connected

    FIGT Members Facebook group

    The members-only group on Facebook offers a place for members to connect and chat. Thank you to all the FIGT Members who have shared relevant resources in our group. Please continue to share!

    If you’re an FIGT Member and are not yet in the FIGT members FB group, please send a ‘join’ request.

    > Join FIGT

    If you're not yet an FIGT Member and would like to join, please visit https://www.figt.org/members

    Other resources recommended by FIGT Members

    • Future Learn: Online courses

    • JSTOR: A great resource for academic researchers, JSTOR is expanding free access during COVID-19.


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