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TCK TALENT: Amy Clare Tasker finds a home, and a place to explore concepts of home, in the theater/re

tck-talent-amy-c-tasker
New TCK columnist Dounia Bertuccelli is here with her first guest, another Adult Third Culture Kid who, like Dounia’s predecessor, Lisa Liang, has a passion for theater.

Hello readers! I’m thrilled to be contributing the TCK Talent column and thought it fitting that my first interviewee, Amy Clare Tasker, works in the performing arts—like my predecessor, Lisa Liang. I had the pleasure of meeting Amy at this year’s 2016 Families in Global Transition Conference, where she was one of the 2016 Pollock Scholars.

Amy is a theater director, writer, producer and performer. Born in Britain, Amy moved to California (the Bay Area) with her family at a young age, where they settled and eventually became US citizens, leading her to initially “identify more as an immigrant than as a TCK.” She pursued a drama degree at the University of California, Irvine, with a year abroad at the University of Manchester, her father’s alma mater and about 20 minutes from where she was born.

In 2013, Amy moved to London, “repatriating” after many years “abroad”. She is now exploring TCK/CCK identity through theater.

* * *

Did growing up as a TCK influence your decision to go into theater, and how has it helped you process your TCK upbringing?
For my thesis project at UC Irvine, I wrote a play called Hyphenated. It was the first time I used theater to explore my British-Americanness—it’s a collection of autobiographical vignettes about my family, strung together with narration from an “Amy” character. I had the idea I could go back to where I was born and find the piece of myself that was missing—and finish my degree while I was at it.

How long ago was that?
This was nearly a decade ago, when I was just beginning to process my dual identity. I hadn’t yet embraced the concept of the Third Culture Kid, or TCK, as I wasn’t able to identify any real-life TCKs beyond myself and my sisters—and we’re not a perfect fit for the academic definition. I was still looking for the right word for who I was, when my confusion finally led me to the community of TCKs and CCKs (Cross-Cultural Kids). I’ve found a remarkable sense of kinship with people who have lived in those same liminal spaces. We recognize that shared emotional geography, even if we’ve never set foot on the same patches of earth. Since moving to London I’ve really embraced being part of the TCK/CCK community—and theater has been a big part of that, with the development of my own performance lab and a new piece, Home Is Where.

“You know where a lot of my family lives? England!”

I understand you’ve been in London for just over three years. What led to your decision to move eight time zones away from where your immediate family lives?
The decision to move came like a bolt of lightning at the end of Directors Lab West—a one-week intensive workshop I attended in 2012. The experience inspired and challenged me and got me thinking about my career. I have a habit of making major decisions through powerful gut instinct (and then rationalizing them at length afterwards, as I did in this blog post). Besides, I have grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in this part of the world.

Since making the move, have you ever gotten “itchy feet”?
I don’t think I get “itchy feet”. Unlike many of my fellow TCKs, I didn’t grow up with high mobility. I never developed that internal clock telling me it’s time to move on again. But still, I often wonder what my life would be like somewhere else in the world, what friends I haven’t met because I’m still here, what opportunities I’m missing out on, what other languages I might know if I hadn’t settled in English-speaking places all my life… But I also want roots.

Is London “home”?
London could be home. I accept I will never be as English as a person who grew up in England, but at least my accent doesn’t stick out here because everyone sounds different. It’s a great base for visiting and working in other European cities… I can see myself staying.

“Directing collaboratively is ‘upholding something with an open hand.’”

Tell me about Home Is Where. What led you to create this particular theater piece?
Whereas Hyphenated was motivated by finding my personal sense of self and cultural identity, Home Is Where is about trying to find a sense of belonging in the context of a global community. It’s also about reaching out to non-TCKs who are curious about these people who move around and get their cultures all mixed up.

I understand the creative process for Home Is Where has involved extensive collaboration?
The process started with identifying fellow TCK and CCK collaborators, and interviewing dozens of people about their cross-cultural experiences. Both the cast and the creative team have contributed ideas for the story, characters, and performance style. Collaboration on this scale is a challenging way to work—but it’s also exhilarating, and creates something unique to this group of people. All twelve of us bring our own cultural identities and diverse artistic backgrounds to the performance, be it music, movement, multimedia, or other styles of theater. The actors weave together their own international experiences with verbatim interviews from fellow cultural hybrids.

It sounds exciting but also a little daunting.
It’s the largest team I’ve ever led, and also the most technically ambitious project I’ve ever attempted. We’re using a technique called headphone verbatim: the actors are listening to the audio recordings of the interviews on stage, and repeating exactly what they hear. That way, the audience can hear exactly what TCKs told us in their interviews. We’re also extending our storytelling outside of the theater. Clips from all our interviews are available on our Online Oral History Library.

What are your hopes and plans for Home Is Where?
We’re still developing the play, finding the best structure to showcase the TCK stories we’ve gathered. At the start of last month we presented a work-in-progress performance in a space in London’s East End; it was set in a futuristic anti-immigration dystopia, inspired by the Brexit vote here in the UK. In an earlier version, we set the interviews in a fictional TCK Embassy—riffing off the idea of the Global Citizen. Right now, we’re in a new script development phase. Hopefully early next year we’ll be back in rehearsal to create the next version of the piece. Ultimately, we’re aiming for a full production in London and then touring around the UK (and maybe even further afield—stay tuned!).

scenes-from-home-is-where

“Five Helens look into a mirror, asking: ‘Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?’”

Are you working on anything else?
I’ve been working on a project about Helen of Troy since 2010, when I started writing with my friend Megan Cohen, a brilliant playwright based in San Francisco. The Helen Project consists of fragments of monologue exploring the myth, icon, and real life of Helen of Troy. We’ve produced a few different “editions” with five actors in both San Francisco and London. I’m currently reshaping it into a solo show, with the idea of directing an immersive performance installation version at some point…

The story of Helen of Troy sounds a far cry removed from the TCK scene.
You know, about two years after we started writing it, I realized it’s also a TCK story. At the end of the Trojan War, our Helen says:

I came home to Sparta. Sparta, where you call me Helen of Troy. In Troy, they called me Helen of Sparta. Or just “the Greek woman”. No one will own me. I don’t belong anywhere.

the-helen-project-2

* * *

Thank you so much, Amy!

Readers, please leave questions or comments for Amy below. You can follow her progress on her Performance Lab site, Facebook and Twitter, where she uses two handles: @AmyClareTasker and @wearehyphenated. Interested in Home Is Where? Read more about it here, and don’t forget you can listen to the TCK interviews at the Online Oral History Library.

Editor’s note: The subheds were taken from Amy Clare Tasker’s blog posts. 

Born in Nicosia, Cyprus, to Lebanese parents, Dounia Bertuccelli has lived in France, UK, Australia, Philippines, Mexico, and the USA—but never in Lebanon. She writes about her experiences growing up as a TCK and adjusting as an adult TCK on her blog Next Stop, which is a collection of prose, poetry and photography. She also serves as the managing editor of The Black Expat; Expat Resource Manager for Global Living Magazine; co-host of the monthly twitter chat #TCKchat; and TCKchat columnist for Among Worlds magazine. Currently based on the East Coast of the United States, she is happily married to a fellow TCK who shares her love for travel, music and good food. To learn more about Dounia, please read her interview with former TCK Talent columnist Lisa Liang. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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Photo credits: Top visual: (top row) London Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge and tragedy/comedy photos are from Pixabay; and photo of Amy Clare Tasker (supplied). Middle visual: Scenes from Home Is Where and flyer for September performance (supplied). Bottom visual: Bust of Helen of Troy by Antonio Canova at Victoria and Albert Museum, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Yair Haklai (CC BY-SA 3.0); and scene from The Helen Project (supplied).

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT: A stopover in Toronto, the world’s most multicultural city

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT
Columnist Indra Chopra is back. Born in India, Indra embraced the life of a trailing spouse to become a globetrotter. In this post she shares her impressions of Toronto, a place that arouses her curiosity and makes her feel (somewhat) at home. ML Awanohara

In my last column, I promised to deliver the Hong Kong chapter of our diasporic shenanigans, beginning in 2008—but the present keeps intruding on my thoughts.

This summer I am visiting Canada for the fourth time. Every visit has been an exposé on the resilience of immigrants waiting for the “turning point.” They start anew not knowing what is around the bend.

“Canada is a place of infinite promise.” —John Maynard Keynes

English economist John Maynard Keynes once said he’d prefer emigrating to Canada over the USA. It’s perhaps a good thing he never experienced driving along Don Mills Road in Toronto…

The morning-evening views of humming cars and twinkling lights of Highway 401—said to be the busiest highway in North America (around half a million vehicles travel along it per day)—does not lull me into a poetic trance; I am too busy counting heads. The car lights represent the people from all over the world who have made this land their home, and the cars…their search for permanency.

I wonder how many of the immigrants enjoyed their moves, whether it was voluntary or forced, under happy circumstances or tragic.

Not all that long ago Canada was the land of Niagara Falls, polar bears and Arctic wilderness. The steady trickling in of immigrants and other displaced nationers has provided an opportunity to fill in the blanks, the empty spaces, with men, women and children looking for places to plant new roots.

The human surge continues; new faces keep appearing from corners of the world that have been stretched to their limits; and there is talk of getting in still more.

“It is easy to get a Canadian permanent resident card,” state a young couple from India. They willingly chose this option for a hassle-free life and the chance to be accepted into the Indo-Canadian diaspora that somehow lessens nostalgia for the homeland.
canada-then-and-now

“Toronto is a very multicultural city, a place of immigrants, like my parents.” —R&B artist Melanie Fiona

I take the elevator down from the 32nd floor of one of the city’s high rises, stopping at different floors. Soon I am joined by African Canadians, Asian Canadians, Indo Canadians: different colors, different masks. I ask an Asian lady flaunting a diamond nose-pin whether she is from India. Her answer? “From Bangladesh. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh—we’re all the same; we wear the same dresses and speak the same languages.” I agree—it’s time I shed my parochial attitude.

A walk in the nearby mall and it’s a mini-world of myriad tongues and dress: hijab-covered heads, Indian tunic tops, tank tops and short shorts… I wonder how they are all adjusting, what makes them leave their familiar environments to embark on a journey to an unknown land.

“It’s relatives and friends who entice us with stories of luxury, which seldom are true,” they would probably tell me. And, once here, they do not want to return having used their savings but must honor their promises to help finance parents and other family member to join them in hopes of a better life, not only in terms of opportunities but also basic amenities.

Of course, some want to return to their native lands, such as the Trinidad-born banker who tells me: “I cannot see myself retiring here. It is too cold.” In any event, she has no choice but to stay in Toronto for the time being, having enrolled her children in city schools. She thinks they will be misfits in their own country if they leave mid-way. She will wait for them to complete college before she decides on her next move, she says.

There are the lone movers, the refugees fleeing torture, intimidation, famine, and poverty. Canadians recently opened their minds and hearts to 25,000 Syrian refugees and are committed to helping them resettle in their country.

I see plenty of my compatriots: young men and women from Punjab and other Indian states. In 2011 Toronto was favored destination for Indians, with no or few limits on letting them work. Some are even doing manual labor—which they certainly would have felt below their dignity in their own country. Many are now investing in properties and enjoying affluent lifestyles—calculating how this compares to where they might have been had they stayed in India.

“The fact that over 50 per cent of the residents of Toronto are not from Canada, that is always a good thing, creatively, and for food especially.” —Anthony Bourdain

Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world, with more than 140 dialects spoken other than French and English. It is nicknamed the “city of neighbourhoods,”; some of the more famous include:

We are driven around Brampton—aka Sikhland or Bangland because so many South Asian migrants have made it their home. It’s a suburban city in Greater Toronto. Many find it easier to settle in if they can live in pockets of ethnicity rather than having to navigate new neighborhoods.

I read about “white flight”, a term that describes the pattern by which early settlers from England to Canada were replaced first by Europeans and then by Asians, Africans, Arabs…a never-drying stream.

“In all of this, the mighty god Krishna moves, increasingly troubled by his lack of relevancy in this alien land.” —Gary Dickerson, about the Indo-Canadian film Masala (1991)

I attend a Hindu prayer gathering (puja) at a relative’s house; and for two hours I am transported to a gurudwara in New Delhi. My reverie is broken when I hear two ladies whispering—not in Punjabi but in Canadian-accented English. Where am I?

The kirtana (call-and-response style religious song or chant) that take place every weekend are a way to keep the umbilical cord intact. One can talk Indian politics, stay connected with friends, and expose children to Indian culture. Neighborhoods are thereby transformed into extensions of the pind (Indian village), with its internal rules and laws intact.

India was/is a reservoir for brides and grooms for Canadian-based Indians, until the younger generation, born and brought up in Toronto, insists on the much-needed change of deciding their own fate by finding their own partners—a source of pride in their adopted land.

A friend recounts his first few days in the country when his wife refused to step out of the house even though her relatives, parents were living next door. The wife was missing her daily routine of long chats with friends, the shared housework and space. Eventually she succumbed to the “good life”; and now with her children married and settled, she wonders how she could have been so “foolish in wanting to return to Punjab.”

Living an expat life can be full of pitfalls or else promises, depending on one’s family life and their expectations.

I meet up with an Indian lady who started her own spice business supplying to Toronto’s Indian grocery stores, first in her neighborhood, then in greater Toronto, and now to neighboring cities and provinces. Her business grew with support from her husband and children. She says:

“When I came to Canada, newly married, I did not plan to sit in the house, and at the same time, I did not want to take up a nine-to-five job. A few experiments at self-business and finally the right idea came. Fifteen years back most of us would carry our spices from visits back home. In time it became tedious, and this is when I hit upon the idea of starting a business with something I was familiar with. We source spices from India and different countries and package and sell them in Canada.”

At other end of the spectrum is a friend’s relative, who has been slogging away since the time she set foot in Toronto forty years back. The ashen visage says it all: having been married at a young age, she had no idea what she was getting into. The husband was of no help; the only silver lining there were no relatives or in-laws around. “It was not easy,” she says.

She took up a job in a bank for financial stability—and with children to take care of as well, it was a balancing act between work and home responsibilities. Years have not changed her routine. She still gets up early morning to complete chores before leaving for work and returning home to prepare dinner, an endlessly exhausting double burden.

I see the younger generation, my children included, who know what it means to globetrot, to assimilate to new surroundings and find their place under the Canadian sun. A Hindu girl lets drop that she eats beef in answer to last year’s “beef killings” in India (an incident where a Hindu mob killed a Muslim family for slaughtering a cow and consuming its meat).
india-diaspora-toronto

* * *

Whether an immigrant from Europe, South East Asia, Far East, Middle East…the narratives are similar, voiced with a shuttered look as if to say:

“We are here, this is what matters, not how we got here or why we came.”

A walk on Toronto’s streets and neighborhoods and the international flavor of Canada devours you. I think of my own journey and where I would like it to end…

* * *

Thank you, Indra, for sharing your thoughts on Canada’s, and the world’s, most multicultural city. From your description, I think Toronto must be the closest physical counterpart our planet has to The Displaced Nation site! —ML Awanohara

Indra Chopra is a writer/blogger passionate about travel and curious about cultures and people. Her present status is that of an accidental expat writing to relive moments in countries wherever she sets home with her husband. With over twenty years of writing experience Indra has contributed to Indian, Middle Eastern publications and online media. She blogs at TravTrails

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Photo credits: Opening visual: Airplane photo and India photo via Pixabay. Second visual: Photos of Canadian wilderness, polar bear and Niagagra Falls via Pixabay; and night and morning photos of Don Mills Road (supplied). Third visual: (first row) 2013 Taste of the Danforth, by synestheticstrings via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0), and Chinatown mural via Pixabay; (second row) Immigrant, by Taymaz Valley via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); (third row) India Bazaar – Toronto, by The Lost Wanderer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0), and Lord Dufferin Public School Students Watch MLK Day Performance, by US Embassy Canada via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Last visual: (clockwise from top left) The kulffi kid (Little India, Toronto), by sakura via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Toronto Temple, by shedairyproduct via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Sacred Hindu Cows, by Anthony Easton via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); and Hindu Markings on a Van, also by Anthony Eaton.

TCK TALENT: The talented Lisa Liang goes to Asia with her one-woman show about growing up everywhere

TCK Talent in Singapore

Columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang has a “first” and a “last” to announce in this post. She will tell us all about what happened when she took her show, Alien Citizen, to Asia for the first time. But she will also tell us that this is her last regular column for the Displaced Nation. Having known her for three years (we even met in person once, when her show was in New York), I will miss interacting with her as well as reading her columns. But as is characteristic of her, she has kindly recruited a replacement. The show will go on! —ML Awanohara

Greetings, dear readers.

As ML just said, this will be my last article for TCK Talent. I’ll be moving on to devote more time to my solo shows, workshops, and acting career.

Starting in September, the column will be carried on by Dounia Bertuccelli, last month’s multi-talented interviewee. I know the column will thrive under her charge.

As ML also said, for my last post I’ll be presenting an account of the journey I made to Singapore in April to perform Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey—my one-woman show about growing up as a Third Culture Kid of mixed heritage.

It was my first time taking the show to Asia. I performed it for Third Culture Kid (TCK) high school students and their parents (many of whom had also been TCKs), teachers, and administrators, at two international schools.

* * *

Two miracles occurred on the flights to Singapore: I was in no pain despite a lower-back injury, and Dan (my husband and techie extraordinaire) and I both fell asleep! We normally can’t sleep on planes no matter what.

Unfortunately, we also experienced something troubling: my ankles and calves swelled up alarmingly. We guessed that this might be due to my choosing the Chinese options at mealtimes, which were tasty…but perhaps a foolish decision on my part since I’m mildly allergic to MSG.

(For details on the health scare that ensued, read my blog.)

Landing in a tropical city full of gardens and great food

Swollen body parts notwithstanding, we oooohed and aaaahed when we arrived at fancy Changi Airport, but were too tired to linger. As the cab drove us through the city-state to our AirBnB apartment, we were impressed by the many tall buildings and the lushly green urban landscape.

After that evening’s health melodrama, we slept like the dead. We had a few days to orient ourselves, sightsee, and start recovering from jet lag. I was expecting the heat of Panama alongside the humidity, but Singapore felt more humid than hot. (We perspired buckets nonetheless.)

Our adventures during the first two full days included:

  • visiting the lovely, peaceful Chinese Garden…in the pouring rain…with one umbrella. (Dan had accidentally left his in the Uber car.) Despite the deluge, we were impressed by the Confucius statues and the Bonsai Garden.
  • taking the immaculate and orderly MRT (metro). We loved hearing the train’s prerecorded announcements in Standard RP English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil.
  • exploring the interior of the enormous ION Orchard, a mall on Orchard Road. (It was still raining outside.)
  • ordering Malay and Indian food at a hawker stall in a mall near our AirBnB. (Singapore malls have food courts that serve the same scrumptious food you’d get at one of the famous hawker centres.)
  • trying a local dessert of shaved ice topped with red beans, black jello, and syrup—sort of a combo of Ice Kachang and Grass Jelly. Super-sweet!
  • experiencing Singapore’s favorite breakfast/snack at Toast Junction: kaya toast (sugar-coconut-buttered toast) served with two soft-boiled eggs, dribbled with a little bit of soy sauce, and a cup of hot coffee with condensed milk. Even if you’re not a fan of soft-boiled eggs (neither am I) or milk in your coffee (neither is Dan), we’re here to tell you that the whole combination is fantastic.

SHOWTIME #1 @ Canadian International School

On the first performance day we were up at 5:30 a.m. (The horror.) Our cab took us to Canadian International School in the pre-dawn darkness. In the impressively large and beautiful theatre, the school’s cheerful stage techie helped us to set up. I was warmly welcomed by a few faculty and admin members—and then the 9th through 11th graders started pouring in.

Showtime!

At first the audience was very quiet yet attentive. Some whispering began after 20 minutes and slowly grew louder until there was a low murmur toward the end.

Nonetheless, the students giggled and laughed at various appropriate places, and at the curtain call I heard a few hoots of appreciation along with the applause.

This was a relief because I rarely know how the show has been received until I take my bow. Afterward, drama teacher Julie and a slew of ATCKs (who are now moms to TCKs!) thanked me repeatedly for bringing the show to the school. I was especially validated by Julie’s appreciation of the script and performance since she’s a fellow theatre-maker.

As has happened after all of my performances, audience members approached to tell me about their own intercultural, nomadic lives and which parts of the show resonated the most for them.

One of them was a friend of a fellow Writing Out of Limbo author—thus proving how small the world is!

I loved hearing American accents from the non-US citizens and non-American accents from the US citizens. It made me feel like I was among my people, with that particular vibe of an international-school crowd, again.

My dear college friend Kikuko flew in from Tokyo just to see the show and flew back directly after, which blew my mind!

I learned later that the head of the school and the secondary school principal both enjoyed the show as well—always affirming to receive praise from the “top admin.” I will forever be grateful to Canadian International School for giving Alien Citizen its Asia Pacific debut.

As usual, my adrenaline was still pumping after the show, so Dan and I headed off to the Singapore National Museum. It had beautiful artifacts and displays, dense with information…and then we went home and crashed.
CIS performance

More marvels in this dot-sized city-state

On our day in between performances, we explored Little India. We saw our first Buddhist and Hindu temples, all of which were gorgeously colorful: Leong San See (Chinese Buddhist), Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya (Thai Buddhist with a huge Buddha statue), and Sri Srinivasa Perumal (Hindu). Each was a marvel for uninitiated us. We also saw the Sultan Mosque, which was more modest than the mosques I’ve toured elsewhere, but very welcoming to visitors.

It was another warm day and the humidity began to take its toll. Still, I enjoyed seeing the brightly painted two-story houses all walled together (like the one-story ones you see in Guatemala and other Latin American countries), with open shutters on the upper floors like in Cape Town.

When the humidity became overpowering, it was a pleasure to duck into a 7-Eleven (!) that blasted air conditioning—a/c is paramount in Singapore. We had lunch at Muthu’s Curry, where the delicious food was served on banana leaves. After waddling out we took an Uber to Arab Street and walked by tons of shops on the pedestrian road. At Sifr Aromatics I bought some blended-in-person Shadowfax perfume, which I adore.

In between shows

SHOWTIME #2 @ Singapore American School

The next day we went to Singapore American School for my afternoon performance. The high school drama teacher, Tom, gave us a warm welcome. I would perform in one of three theatres on campus, which had a luxurious backstage area—aisles upon aisles of dressing-room vanity mirrors and a full bathroom! The school’s theatre techies were very professional and helpful.

During the performance, the audience was alert and even laughed heartily at a few points. Afterward, some audience members came up to praise the show and a faculty member gave me an emotional bear hug. (Every time an audience member shows that much appreciation, it’s a relief, because it highlights the show’s value for different people in different places even as time wears on. I never know if there’s going to be an expiration date.)

Again, it was especially validating to hear a fellow theatre-maker like Tom speak of the craft that goes into creating and performing a show like Alien Citizen. I’ve performed it so many times in non-theatrical venues that I’ve become resigned to folks who refer to the show as a “sketch.”

For those unfamiliar with my work: I perform over 30 characters (including myself at different ages), speak five languages in it, and take the audience through six countries while I’m all alone onstage…with no intermission…for 80 minutes. It’s my job to make it flow and feel intimate, but it has never been an easy one.

An old friend of my mom from my high school years in Egypt (it seems that everyone knows someone in Singapore) took Dan and me out for drinks and dinner afterwards to celebrate. We went to the American Club, which is humongous with several restaurants, a pool, library, convenience store, dry cleaner, and more—I’ve never seen anything like it. They make an excellent martini…
SAS performance

Final hurrah: Singapore

The next day: freedom! Now we could do whatever we wanted for the rest of the trip! We took the MRT to the old colonial district, where we visited the Merlion, Cavanagh Bridge, and the Asian Civilisations Museum. The latter had a fascinating shipwreck exhibit as well as a collection of gorgeous ceramics.

The next stop was Raffles Hotel for high tea. We each indulged in two servings of tiered tea trays of finger sandwiches, cakes, and tarts. The meal also included a buffet of dim sum (!), croque monsieurs, chicken pot pies, and scones. (By now you’ve figured out: I’m all about the food.) After stuffing ourselves to the sound of a musician playing musical theatre tunes on a harp, we peaked into the famous Long Bar. We decided against ordering an overpriced Singapore Sling and took an Uber home.

The following day we visited Chinatown. We loved the Chinese Heritage Centre, which recreates what a shophouse was like in the 1950s—very immersive and expertly done. There were tons of places to shop for knickknacks. We had lunch at Fill-a-Pita, my high-school-mate Hassan’s eatery, where he served us delicious vegetarian Egyptian/Middle Eastern food. Singapore is a true hub for international folk.

We then walked through the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which were lush and peaceful. (They are the only tropical gardens to be honored as a UNESCO Heritage site.) That evening we went to the famous Wee Nam Kee for a dinner of Hainanese chicken rice, Singapore’s wildly popular and yummy comfort food.

The next day we visited Liang Seah Street, which was recommended for its young vibe. I enjoyed seeing my surname on street signs! We returned to Chinatown to visit Singapore’s oldest Hokkien temple, Thian Hock Keng, the interior of which reminded me vaguely of my extended family’s “big house” in Guatemala City (tiled floor around an open sky patio). We then walked to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple with its splendid interior. We were privileged to witness our first Buddhist service there.

That evening we went to the Night Safari, said to be the world’s first nocturnal zoo. Tip: get your tickets online to avoid a two-hour wait. It was fun to see nocturnal animals (and non-nocturnal animals, asleep) from all over the world as we were driven through on long trams. The elephants may have been the most thrilling sight. I had seen them and other animals on wildlife preserves in Kenya when I was 15, but that was a very long time ago. Alien Citizen’s final scene is set in Kenya, so there was a nice symmetry to seeing African animals on this trip.

On our last day we returned to Orchard Road. This time the sun was shining and we could see why it’s sometimes compared to the Champs d’Elysees or 5th Avenue. From there we went to the Peranakan Museum, which is basically the mixed heritage/multiracial/multicultural museum of Singapore. I felt very at home!

For our last adventure in the city, we took a Singapore River tour on a bumboat, the kind with a cheesy prerecorded commentary. I’m so glad we did, because we saw a completely different Singapore from the one we had been experiencing on the MRT and in cabs. It really is lovely along the banks of the quays and bays at twilight.

We capped the evening off by going to the Flight Bar at the Marina Bay Sands, a Vegas-style, three-towered behemoth of a hotel. Despite our sweaty, bedraggled appearance, we were given excellent service: they seated us at a perfect table overlooking both the bay and the city skyline. We toasted with my French “57” (its version of the drink that was originally served at the American Bar in Paris, later Harry’s New York Bar) and Dan’s Dark ‘N’ Stormy—overpriced but nonetheless a delightful VERY FINAL hurrah. After that celebratory toast, we managed to find one open restaurant, CoCo ICHIBANYA curry house, and gave that Japanese curry hell.

On our day of departure, after checking in at Changi Airport, we headed down to its ginormous food court and got our last kaya toast “Set A” at Ya Kun Kaya Toast. It was glorious. As we walked to our gate, we saw more of the deluxe airport, took pictures, and then had uneventful flights home. It took over two weeks to recover from the jet lag. It was worth it.

Final hurrah: TCK TALENT

It seems fitting for my last entry to be about Alien Citizen. I was first introduced to The Displaced Nation via an interview by amazing founder and editor ML Awanohara, when Alien Citizen was having its world premiere in Hollywood in 2013. ML asked me to write this column not long after the show’s first run ended, and it has been an honor to interview numerous fellow creative ATCKs for TCK Talent. They have all inspired, touched, and educated me. In the meantime, Alien Citizen has traveled around the USA on the college circuit, to festivals and conferences, and to private retreats and galas. It has also traveled the world to theatres, conferences, and international schools in Central America, Iceland, Europe, Africa, and now Asia. Furthermore, it was the catalyst for the workshops I now lead. We’ve come a very long way and we’re not even close to finishing the journey.

I feel privileged to have written for The Displaced Nation and am ever grateful to ML Awanohara for giving me the opportunity. Thank you, dear readers, for following along.

* * *

Thank YOU, Lisa, and the fondest of farewells! I will miss you. You really “got” what the Displaced Nation is about and over the years have showcased so many internationals who are now leading creative lives. You’ve also served as a shining example of that yourself, by reporting on the progress of your show—and several of those reports, like this one, have also been fascinating travelogues. I’m just so glad that the column you have created and shaped, highlighting the many talents of Adult Third Culture kids, will carry on in your wake. (Thank you, Dounia!) Meantime, please promise us you’ll come back to our fair shores from time to time for a visit—and perhaps even the occasional update post. Readers, please leave questions, comments, words of farewell 😥 😥 😥 to Lisa below.

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is a prime example of what she writes about in this column: an Adult Third Culture Kid working in a creative field. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she is an actor, writer, and producer who created the solo show Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, which has been touring internationally. To keep up with Lisa’s progress, be sure to visit her blog, Suitcasefactory. You can also follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits: Top visual: Singapore cityscape and garden images via Pixabay;  Elizabeth Liang performing at the Canadian International School in Singapore, by Jacquie Weber (supplied); Alien Citizen (poster, supplied); and TCK Talent branding. Second visual: (clockwise from top left) Kaya Toast “Set A” breakfast at Toast Junction, by Daniel Lawrence (supplied); MRT image via Pixabay; Lisa at the ION Mall, selfie (supplied); and Chinese and Japanese gardens, Bonsai section, Singapore, by R Barraez D’Lucca via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Third visual: Lisa performing at the Canadian International School in Singapore, by Jacquie Weber (supplied). Fourth visual: (clockwise from top left) Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple via Pixabay; Daniel Lawrence in front of Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple, by Lisa Liang (supplied); Muthu’s fish head curry, by Krista, and Arab Street and Sunday lunch, by Bryn Pinzgauer—both via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Fifth visual: Singapore American School dressing room, selfie (supplied); and Singapore American School long shot, by Daniel Lawrence (supplied). Sixth visual: (top row) Lisa at Flight Bar, Marina Bay Sands Hotel, by Daniel Lawrence (supplied); and Elephant at Night – Night Safari Zoo – Singapore, by Glen Bowman via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); (middle row) Lisa at the Merlion, by Daniel Lawrence (supplied); one of many buddhas in Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, by Lisa Liang (supplied); (bottom row) Changi Airport departure, by Lisa Liang (supplied); High Tea, Raffles Hotel, by llbrarianidol via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

TCK TALENT: Dounia Bertuccelli, writer, editor, mentor and #TCKchat co-host

Dounia Bertuccelli TCK Talent

Columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang‘s guest this month is a TCK of Lebanese origin, who has lived almost everywhere apart from Lebanon!

Greetings, readers. Today’s interviewee is Dounia Bertuccelli, writer, editor, mentor, and one of the moderators of #TCKchat, a Twitter chat for TCK kids around the globe. I first met Dounia at the Families in Global Transition 2014 conference, where she was a Parfitt Pascoe Writing Residency scholar and I was performing Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey as the final keynote. Since then, Dounia’s writing and my show have had positive trajectories, so I feel like our paths are parallel.

Dounia was born in Nicosia, Cyprus, to Lebanese parents—but has never lived in Lebanon. Her father worked for a US-based company with branches around the world, and Dounia spent her childhood and pre-teen years in the USA (Wisconsin), Mexico, and the Philippines, and her teens in Australia and France.

As an adult, Dounia has studied/lived in the U.K., France and the United States. She earned her undergraduate degree in History/Geography at Institut Catholique de Paris (actually not a religious institute) and her BA in History at the Sorbonne. After taking a year to work, she enrolled in the University of Surrey in the UK to pursue an MA in European Politics, Business and Law. She worked in France again for a while. Her latest move was to Connecticut six years ago with her husband, who also grew up as a TCK, for his job.

It’s a pleasure to interview Dounia for The Displaced Nation.

* * *

Welcome, Dounia. Your peripatetic, multilingual childhood must have included so many adventures and challenges. Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time, and if so, why? 
That’s a really great and interesting question! It’s also a tough one but here goes… As a teenager, I found the two years I lived in Australia to be the happiest and most carefree. We moved there from the Philippines (where safety was an issue, especially for foreigners), and our newfound freedom was exhilarating. As a teenager, it was the ideal place: it was safe, and we had sunshine, beach and friends. Initially it was a very difficult transition, but once I settled in, I loved it—and it remains a very positive memory. As an adult, I have been happiest living in Paris. It’s where I’ve felt the most sense of belonging. I still don’t feel 100% like I belong there and I can still feel like an outsider—but less so than everywhere else. Paris is beautiful, vibrant and truly taught me independence. I also met the love of my life there, and it is where my family has settled down, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Do you identify most with a particular culture or cultures or with people who have similar interests and perhaps similar cross-cultural backgrounds?  
There is no black-and-white answer here. A lot of it comes down to the individual and their family background. I definitely identify with people who have similar cross-cultural/global-living backgrounds because there is an unspoken understanding and connection. But I also identify with those who come from a similar heritage and familial background. Not necessarily the same origin, but who were brought up with similar values and family ties.

“I long for somewhere,/ without knowing where.”

How do you like living in Connecticut?
It’s been a mixed experience. People have been nice and we live in a cute small town…but there is very little diversity and, although we may look and sound like everyone else, we are very different. That has made it difficult to meet people we connect with and to feel as though we belong. It’s also tough to live in a small American town after living in Paris for 10 years and having access to other European cities. And it’s definitely not easy being across the ocean from my parents and siblings.

Did your TCK upbringing inform your choice to become a writer—and has writing helped you to process your TCK upbringing?
I have always written, but I don’t know if that comes from my TCK upbringing or if it’s just my character. I think writing has helped me process my TCK experiences, as it has helped me process most things in my life. I’ve always written to express myself, to put my thoughts and emotions on paper—through journals, prose and poetry. As I was growing up I wrote about everyday life, and also during every move, in airports between homes and everything else in between. I still do that and I think it’s definitely helped me process my experiences as an adult TCK.
Heart vs home

“And yet I long to settle,/ To put down roots.”

As an ATCK, do you now have “itchy feet” or do you prefer to have a home base and only travel for pleasure?
I think it’s a bit of both. I’ve been in the same place for 5.5 years and that’s long. I’m ready for a change and to be somewhere new. But at the same time I’m not sure I want the constant upheaval of frequent moves. I think I would like to settle and have a home base, but only somewhere special to me and where I can also travel easily. Even if I settled down somewhere, I would need to travel frequently to feel the thrill of the unfamiliar, see new places and keep those “itchy feet” content.

Are you working on anything at the moment?
I have my ongoing work as a freelance writer and editor—I am the Expat Resource Manager for Global Living Magazine. In addition, I’m working on a variety of projects: I’m a moderator for #TCKchat (a twitter chat for TCKs around the globe); I write the TCKchat column for Among Worlds; and I work with the Parfitt Pascoe Writing Residency scholars as their mentor and editor (as you mentioned at the outset, it’s a scholarship program for new TCK/expat writers to attend and write about the Families in Global Transition Conference). You can find all my published works on my blog as well as on my LinkedIn page. It’s collection of non-fiction prose, poetry, occasional book reviews and photography.

* * *

Thank you so much, Dounia. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Dounia below. You can also follow her on Twitter, where you’ll be led into the monthly #TCKchats (#TCKchat is held on the 1st Wednesday/Thursday of each month with 2 sessions: 1st session at 15:00 GMT and 2nd session at 3:00 +1 GMT). And be sure to take a look at her creative works on her blog, the aptly named Next Stop.

Editor’s note: The two quotes are from Dounia Bertuccelli’s poem “Longing,” which was first published on her blog in 2014 and also appeared in Among Worlds (December 2015), a magazine for Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs).

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is a prime example of what she writes about in this column: an Adult Third Culture Kid working in a creative field. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she is an actor, writer, and producer who created the solo show Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, which has been touring internationally. And now she is working on another show, which we hope to hear more about soon! To keep up with Lisa’s progress in between her columns, be sure to visit her blog, Suitcasefactory. You can also follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits: Top visual: (top row) Eiffel Tower image via Pixabay; Coat of arms of the former university of Paris, France (Sorbonne), by Katepanomegas via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0); Connecticut 1980 camper trailer plate, by Jerry “Woody” via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Dounia Bertuccelli (supplied); (bottom row) Lebanon via Pixabay; Selimiye Mosque (originally the Cathedral of Sainte Sophie), in Nicosia, Cyprus, by Chris06 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0); and The Surrey Scholar in Guildford, by Mike Peel via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0). Middle visual: House and heart images via Pixabay; Avenue des Champs-Élysées photo via Pixabay; Hartford, Connecticut by Doug Kerr via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Bottom visual: Writing and photography images via Pixabay.

TCK TALENT: Benjamin Jancewicz, missionary kid, socially responsible graphic designer and pioneering vector artist

Photo credits: (top row) Kawawachikamach Band (flag) of the Naskapi, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0); (middle row) Ben Jancewicz self-portrait (supplied); (bottom row) Lights, Camera, Action (Fed Hill), by Bill Mill via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0), Zerflin logo.

Columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang‘s guest this month is an adult Missionary Kid (and Third Culture Kid) who expresses his creativity as a visual artist.

Welcome back, readers. Today’s ATCK interviewee is artist, illustrator, and graphic designer Benjamin Jancewicz. Benjamin grew up in Northern Quebec, on the Naskapi Native American Reservation of Kawawachikamach, to an Irish-American mother and Polish-American missionary father who is a linguist and Bible translator to the Naskapi Native Americans.

His Twitter blurb says he was raised “Native, Interracial, MK” (MK being Missionary Kid).

Benjamin’s parents met tobogganing at a Youth Group in their hometown of Norwich, Connecticut, and Ben was born in Connecticut. He now lives in Baltimore with his wife, Tamika, where he runs his own graphic design company, Zerflin (the name belonged to a cartoon alien Benjamin drew as a kid) and creates original vector artwork, which has been exhibited in galleries, cafes and homes around the United States and Canada. His current show, Who Said What, is, in his own words,

a collection that combines my love for engaging people in the creation of my art as well as my desire to reimagine quotes that move people to live better lives. The creation process begins with a call for quotes to be submitted. I then do careful research and select a unique photograph of the quote’s author, typically in their youth, imagining them as my peer. Using the reference image, I draw the piece itself inspired by 1950s and 60s screenprinting, interior design and album covers. Each piece has a unique color palette and font from an up-and-coming typographer.

You can get a taste of the work, and the vector art process, of which Ben is a pioneer, from this short video:

* * *

Welcome, Benjamin. I understand your family traveled quite a bit before settling in the Naskapi Native American Reservation.
Yes, my family moved to Chicago (where my parents went to school), Texas (where they had training), Mexico (where they had field testing), and Sherbrooke, a city in southern Quebec (where they learned French), all before I was four years old. I remember bits and pieces of that time and I’m told I picked up Spanish, but I ended up losing it and learning Naskapi, French, Innu and English instead.

Those are some very peripatetic early years (not to mention impressive multilingualism on your part). Did the traveling continue after you moved to the Reservation?
To raise support for the work, my parents had to travel to the States almost every summer. So there was a lot of visiting churches and road trips through the states, listening to my Father give slideshow presentations about what our family was up to. He continues that to this day in a blog I built for him: http://bill.jancewicz.com. We also moved quite a bit on the Reservation (we call it “the Rez”) as well. We stayed at people’s houses, either with them or when they weren’t there. Eventually when I was older we moved to the nearby town, but living on the Rez was some of the happiest time of my life. Summers filled with bike riding, exploring the woods, swimming in the lake…it was heaven.

“You never find yourself until you face the truth.” —Pearl Baily

What drew you to art and illustration?
I always drew as a kid. As I got older, life on the Rez got harder. Kids got involved in drugs and alcohol. Their parents being absent for the same reasons took a toll. I began losing friends to suicide, overdose. And as TV crept into the Rez, so did an attitude of treating white people differently. I was singled out because I was different. Bullies began attacking me more and more frequently at school—until my parents pulled me out and homeschooled me for a few years. I ultimately went back to the Rez school for most of secondary school, but drawing, computers and piano were often how I dealt with depression and loneliness.

It’s striking, how many ATCKs’ creative pursuits begin as—or become—coping mechanisms during childhood/adolescence. I’m very sorry you were bullied and am glad you found creative outlets to help you handle it. Did your interest in art and illustration evolve naturally into a career in graphic design?
I never really considered art and illustration to be a viable career, and originally went to school for engineering. After two years, I began to learn more about graphic design and after much deliberation, I switched majors. I didn’t find out until later that my father had done graphic design when he was younger as well. Once I switched, I had to do a lot of extra work to catch up, and started my design company, Zerflin, while still in class.

Creation of Zerflin

Photo credits: (top row) Camp amérindien MANTEO MATIKAP, by Guillaume Cattiaux via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); (middle row) screen shots of Ben; (bottom row) Zerflin logo and banner.

That’s impressive!

“Power & control will never outweigh love.” —Jada Koren Pinkett Smith

In college, did you identify most with a particular culture or cultures, or with people who had cross-cultural backgrounds similar to yours?  
While I was in college, in a small town in the States, I was bullied again, this time in the dormitories, and again for being different. But this time it was because I was Canadian, because I grew up on a Rez, and had perspectives that were considered strange by my white dorm mates. I sought refuge in a place on campus called the Rafiki House, a house dedicated to helping TCK and international students adjust to life in the US (rafiki means “friend” in Swahili). I ended up being the first freshman ever to live in the house. I stayed there all four years, getting involved in the protests and fights for its survival when the college tried to shut it down.

I’m sure many current TCKs and international students at the college are grateful for the House’s existence. What made you decide to move to Baltimore?
Baltimore was only an hour-and-a-half drive from college, so I’d often come down with friends to explore, and Tamika and I would come on dates. We fell in love with the city and decided to stay. Tamika originally wanted to teach in the public school system, and I got a job working at a non-profit in DC. Baltimore is much cheaper to live in, so we bought a house here.

“If you have an opportunity to use your voice you should use it.” —Samuel Leroy Jackson

As an ATCK, do you now have “itchy feet,” or do you prefer to have a home base and only travel for pleasure?
I have a very strong wanderlust, but the Recession pretty much killed any opportunities to travel. I try to travel as much as I can with my business, and now have art shows in L.A. that I frequently travel for. We organized with a group of friends and traveled to South Africa for the first time this past winter, which was amazing. It was the first time off the continent for me. Baltimore is really feeling more and more like home, though. Getting involved in the local social justice movements has given me life, and I’m glad to have a base here.

Per your design agency’s website, Zerflin’s staff “champion underdog clients and believe running a company without being evil is paramount.” This is admirable! Did your TCK background influence this mission/vision/value, or did something else, or were there a combination of influences?
Growing up on a Rez, there’s a certain amount of “wokeness” that just comes with living and experiencing how white people in town would treat my friends differently. And as someone who looks white, it was crazy hearing some of the conversations other white people would have about African Americans and Africans, Natives, Latinos, and Asians. As I got more and more involved in social justice on campus and began reading more and more books from black nationalist, feminist, womanist, and social justice authors, I knew I wanted to be involved in that work in some capacity. I also recognized that most companies (especially in design) are more large-client focused. As a social justice action, I wanted to do something different.

Congratulations on your show, which I understand will be at Impact Hub Baltimore for most of May into early June. Are you working on any more big art projects at the moment?
Continuously. I’ve been doing a lot more with art over the past couple years, which is strange for me. I knew some artists in college, and the way they acted really turned me off to art. I already felt looked down upon just being there as a TCK, but artists really seemed to take it to the next level. Tamika greatly encouraged me to pursue art, and as it took off, I’ve been getting more into illustration as a profession. You can see more of my work here.

Ben Jancewicz’s artwork. (Clockwise from top): Trumpeter plays the blues (hand-drawn, digitally rendered); West African Girl, available for purchase at Zerflin (Etsy shop); screenshot of Oprah work at Who Said What exhibition; Fayette Regina Pinkney, commissioned portrait.

* * *

Thank you so much, Ben. Congratulations on your successful business and ongoing artwork! Readers, please leave questions or comments for Benjamin below. Besides checking out his art site, you can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter. You can commission his artwork here and buy select pieces (on paper or canvas), including from the current show, here.

Editor’s note: All quotes are taken from the artwork in Benjamin Jancewicz’s current show, Who Said What.

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is a prime example of what she writes about in this column: an Adult Third Culture Kid working in a creative field. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she is an actor, writer, and producer who created the solo show Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, which has been touring internationally. And now she is working on another show, which we hope to hear more about soon! To keep up with Lisa’s progress in between her columns, be sure to visit her blog, Suitcasefactory. You can also follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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TCK TALENT: Mary Bassey, Writer, Storyteller, Advocate and Scientist

Mary Bassey TCK Talent

Columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang has invited a member of the up-and-coming generation of talented Adult Third Culture Kids to be her guest this month.

Welcome back, readers. This month’s guest is Mary Bassey, the first ATCK interviewee for this column whose talents extend from writing all the way to biochemistry! Mary is a self-described multiethnic (Efik & Igbo) Nigerian-Canadian-American. She was born in Nigeria, grew up mostly in Canada (the West Coast) and Kentucky, and currently resides in Southern California.

Mary has a talent and a passion for storytelling and writing, particularly when it sparks cross-cultural discussion and helps to effect change. She contributes to The Black Expat, a site that features first-hand accounts, personal narratives and key advice about cross-cultural living from members of the Black Diaspora. She has her own site, Verily Merrily Mary, where she coaches writers in how to have an impact, and she recently started a new blog on the Huffington Post. (Her first post was about the need for millennials to always be hustling, to the detriment of self-care.)

Mary received a prestigious TCK award to take part in this year’s Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference, in Amsterdam, where she spoke on a panel about storytelling as a means of communicating the experience of a global or Third Culture Kid lifestyle.

I met Mary on Twitter at #TCKchat, a bimonthly Twitter event for which she is one of several co-hosts (@verilymary). I found her so interesting, I decided I had to learn more of her story.

* * *

Welcome, Mary. Please tell us all the places where you grew up and why your family moved.
I was born in Ilorin, Nigeria, a city mostly populated by those from the Yoruba ethnic group. My father is Efik and my mother is Igbo and I fluently spoke both Yoruba and English as a small child, so even before leaving Nigeria for North America, my early childhood was already quite multicultural. My sights were set even further along the global cultural landscape once my father landed jobs as a physics professor in various cities and my mother, siblings, and I moved along with him. Our first move was to Victoria in British Columbia, Canada (on the Southern tip of Vancouver Island), for nearly three years. Then we moved to Kentucky for about seven years. Our last move was to Southern California, which has been my home for over eight years.

Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time, and if so, why?
My life in Victoria was by far the highlight of my life. Growing up, my siblings and I were involved in the activities of the city’s community center, which catered to the needs of kids living in the city, providing parents with time off while giving us the opportunity to play and explore the outdoors. I had my first camping experience in Victoria and actually saw a moose in person at around age six (one of the most Canadian moments of my life!). Hiking, swimming, and wading in the lakes and beaches were normal, nearly everyday parts of my life. Victoria opened up a new world of outdoor life, and I absolutely loved it. I was so carefree.

“Being in a STEM field has given me another avenue to put my mind to use.”

What drew you to studying biochemistry?
I decided to get my bachelors degree in biochemistry because science was something I have always liked, especially the life sciences. I couldn’t choose between biology or chemistry so I decided to pick biochemistry. My task now as a graduate is to figure out how to merge my intellectual curiosity in the sciences with my love of culture and storytelling.

Science and storytelling

The world could use your combination of gifts! Speaking of storytelling, which makes me think of writing, what made you decide to work as a writing coach in California?
When my family moved to California because of my father’s job as a physics professor at a university here, I was entering my second year of high school. I’m now in my early 20s and am still here. I decided to become a writing coach because I knew that I had something to offer to those who are struggling with their writing voice and/or need guidance in order to effectively communicate their message. I have been helping people with their writing since middle school. I decided to make my services more public and created an online platform to do so. It has been a blast working with so many brilliant and smart writers.

“I never thought of myself as a global citizen because I am not a citizen of the globe; I am a citizen of two countries.”

Do you identify most with a particular culture or cultures?
I only partially identify with the cultures that I have grown up in. When I say that I am Nigerian, Canadian, or American, there is an invisible asterisk attached to each nationality because they each require a bit more of an explanation. For example, I am Nigerian, but I have spent most of my life living in North America. This may cause some people to question the validity of my Nigerianness because it is inevitably in juxtaposition with my Canadianness and my Americanness. Regardless, I know that my being Nigerian is valid.

Did your TCK upbringing inform your choice to become a writer? 
I think so. With so much of my life in transition and in flux, writing has been one of the few constants. Paper and pen is readily available in every place I have lived, and nowadays, of course, we also have laptops and tablets. When you are living a cross-cultural life, you become introspective by force. As a kid, I had plenty of those moments of introspection—though I may not have taken them to heart or perhaps was not yet able to understand my feelings fully.

Has writing helped you to process your TCK upbringing?
I only found out about the term “TCK” four years ago! It has helped me put words to my childhood experiences and write more about my TCK life. Finding other TCKs in the blogosphere and via social media encouraged me to be more confident in making my stories and experiences public on blogs and other kinds of publications. But even with the various opportunities I have been given to write on public platforms, I do not neglect writing for myself (journaling, etc.). I am such a strong believer in people—writers especially—journaling privately. It’s like the socially acceptable version of talking to yourself.

“How many of us millennials are more concerned with growing our ‘Countries I’ve Been To’ list instead of having in-depth interactions with the citizens of those countries?”

As an ATCK, do you have “itchy feet”?
One thing I like to say is that I find instability in stability. My obsession with wordplay aside, the statement rings so true for me. The fact that I can say I have been in the same spot (here in California) for over eight years is mind boggling—and makes me feel a bit anxious. The idea of being anything close to 100% established and settled in a place is not a source of comfort for me at all. My upbringing was not like that. I liked looking forward to my next plane, ferryboat, or long-distance bus ride during school holidays as a kid. My childhood was indeed nomadic. However, already this year, for the first time in five years, I took two international trips, giving me a whopping total of 10 planes already taken this year. That constant movement has kept me sane. It’s the madness of travel that keeps me centered.

Do you prefer to travel for business, pleasure, or both?
I would not mind a lifestyle that affords my moving frequently. And, while vacations are fun, I would not want all of my travel to be rooted in pleasure alone. My latest trip to Amsterdam was around the middle of March of this year. As you mentioned at the outset, I traveled there to attend the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference and I was one of five ATCKs to be awarded the Pollock Scholarship, which covers our cost of attending. I was also one of the conference presenters! I was on the plenary panel led by Julia Simens, called “Stories You Need to Tell.” There was a strong sense of purpose and duty with my going to Amsterdam. While the city was gorgeous, it was not just a vacation for me. That is the kind of thing that I want to happen regularly in my life: traveling with a purpose beyond pleasure.

The Worlds Within

I can relate and I’m sure it will continue to happen for you. Per your site, Verily Merrily Mary, you’re involved in many worthy causes: you’ve worked with organizations that aim to encourage grade school kids to get excited about STEM fields, especially children from underrepresented groups. You also support and volunteer with organizations that empower cancer patients and cancer researchers. Last July, you received the title Miss Efik USA, and you advocate for the Nigerian Efik people who live in the United States as well as in Nigeria. Congratulations on these contributions and achievements! Is there anything else you would like to share?
I had the absolute honor to be published in the book The Worlds Within: An Anthology of TCK Art and Writing: Young, Global and Between Cultures, which was launched in 2014 as a way of giving children and adolescents a voice regarding their TCK experience.
Editor’s note: The Worlds Within made our Best of Expat Books for 2014.

 

* * *

Thank you, Mary. Readers: you may learn more about Mary, her writing, and her various projects at her Verily Merrily site. If you have any questions or comments for her, please be sure to leave them below.

Editor’s note: All photos were supplied by Mary Bassey or are from Pixabay, with the exception of the two FIGT conference photos, which are from their Facebook page. The quotes are from Mary’s posts on Verily Merrilly.

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is a prime example of what she writes about in this column: an Adult Third Culture Kid working in a creative field. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she is an actor, writer, and producer who created the solo show Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, which has been touring internationally. And now she is working on another show, which we hope to hear more about soon! To keep up with Lisa’s progress in between her columns, be sure to visit her blog, Suitcasefactory. You can also follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

STAY TUNED for more fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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For this dreamer of dreams, artist at heart, and American Russophile, a picture says…

Steve Hague Collage

Canon zoom lens, photo credit: Morguefiles; Steve Hague and his Russian bride at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Kazan, Russia, on their wedding day. The ceremony was followed by a reception where the happy couple danced, ate, laughed, toasted, and kissed—every time the guests shouted “Gorko, Gorko, Gorko!” (Kiss the bride!).

Writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King is back with his ever-popular “A picture says…” column. Born in England, James is now semi-retired in Thailand. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My February guest is 58-year-old American national Steve Hague, who a few years ago left everything behind to start up a new life in Kazan, Russia.

Steve says that although he is American in the mind he is Russian in the heart. He keeps a fascinating blog, Life in Russia, which is aptly subtitled “The bridge between two countries”. Steve has put a lot of time, research and energy into bringing us information, both written and visual, about his adopted homeland, in an enthusiastic way.

He also belongs to the ranks of what the Displaced Nation calls “international creatives.” Besides being an avid photographer, he is currently writing a novelette called Under the Blood Moon.

Today I hope he will convey some of the enthusiasm he has about his new life and pursuits, along with sharing a selection of his photos.

* * *

Hi, Steve. We have been following each other’s blogs for a while now, and I am very pleased that we have the opportunity to meet in this interview. Let’s start with some background on you, shall we—beginning with where you were born and when you spread your wings to start travelling.
Well, the hospital where I was born almost refused my mother admittance because she had high cheek bones and dark skin, like a Native American Indian. My father managed to convince the staff she was white, and my arrival into the world occurred in Grand Junction Hospital, Colorado. Because my father worked for the government, my family moved every four years or so. I think we moved back and forth between Colorado and Maryland six times. Eventually, my mother put her foot down and we all graduated from high school in Boulder City, Nevada. But my father had itchy feet, and I appear to have followed in his footsteps, so to speak.

And in your adulthood you’ve become quite an experienced traveller. Tell me more.
I’d love to say I’ve traveled the world but it just isn’t so. I’ve traveled a lot within the United States. Thanks to my family, I’ve seen nearly every major national park in the United States, and in my early adulthood I did a lot of traveling on the West Coast. This stone finally stopped rolling in Portland, Oregon. Exploring the great Northwest was a wonderful experience.

But you didn’t venture outside the country?
Like every brave American I visited Canada several times. My best trip was to Prince George in British Columbia in the dead of winter. I guess I was preparing for exploits outside of the States without knowing it. And there were a couple of forays into Mexico when I was younger, before it became Gangland Я Us.

What about your working life—how did that evolve?
I started my career as an architect, back in the 1970s. That evolved into studying naturopathic medicine, which lasted approximately ten years until I founded the precious metals business, which I turned over to my partners before coming to Russia. Here in Kazan I found my niche in teaching English. Honestly, I never thought there was much value to being a native speaker; that only came after escaping America. Today along with teaching I write, which has been in my heart since childhood. It find it adds balance to my life.

Что ни город, то и норов (Another city—another temper). —Russian proverb

So Russia was your first time out of the United States? That was quite a leap! What led you there, and how did you cope with the cultural and language differences?
Yes, I met my wife through a dating website, and now Russia is my home (until I get itchy feet again). Some people may have thought I was crazy but with her by my side I felt more secure about living somewhere else. And what an experience it’s been! It’s truly opened my eyes to what it means to be a global citizen. In fact, where we live we resembles any major city in America minus one thing: the sidewalks are terrible here. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same—malls, grocery stores, McDonald’s, the movies, it’s all here. There’s one oddity though. I see a greater variety of cars here than I ever saw in the States.

You have also really embraced Russia itself.
I believe I can trace my first love of Russia back to my childhood. My father brought home a record, How to Learn Russian Easy—I was probably only 11 years old at the time. The only word I learned was здравствуйте (hello). Later in high school I wanted to learn the language, but the choice was either French or Spanish. I chose French but never went to the class.

I know from my experiences in Thailand how valuable having a local partner or wife is. However, it can make you a little lazy on the language front and ultimately more dependent. But I’m sure that’s not the case with you, Steve! How often do you travel out of Russia to explore other places?
My wife and I love travel, and since moving here I’ve had the opportunity to visit Cyprus and Israel, both fascinating countries with incredible beauty and charm. I’m sure I will get to other places as well, eventually. Right now we have a couple of trips planned, one to the Altai Mountains, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together, and the other, hopefully, to Europe. If anyone out there is into adventure travel, we’ve invited a small group to join us on the Altai trip. There’s still space.

Now let’s see some photos that capture a few of your favourite memories.
This first photo shows the canals of St. Petersburg. I took it during the blue hour of the summer solstice, close to midnight:
SH_StPetersburg_canals

The next photo is of the ancient town of Bolgar, which is located on the Volga about 75 miles away from Kazan—for me, it captures the essence of the place (which I found hard to do!):
SH_Bolgar

For the next one, I happened to be walking by the lake near my home when the fog started to lift. I saw the stump sticking up out of the water, the fog in the background, and the changing colors of the leaves. I knew this was one of those moments I would never see again. More than any other photo it changed how I viewed my photography:
SH_near home in Russia

The last one is indeed a lovely capture and I agree such moments aren’t ten a penny. Now I’m keen to see some of your favorite places for photography and hear about why you found them so inspirational. Let’s have a look.
The next photo shows the type of scene I love to capture. I was in Suzdal and just happened to be standing on a bridge looking over the river, towards one of the many churches within this small, historic town:
SH_river&church_Russia

While in Israel we traveled all over, from Haifa to the Sea of Galilee. We got to see Nazareth (which I didn’t like), Tel Aviv (much like any big city), and then Jerusalem, a fascinating city of culture, history, religion, and much more. We even made it to Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, at the northern tip of the Red Sea, which is a beautiful in its own right. I took many pictures of scenery, but here is a view of Haifa:
SH_Israel

Also in Israel, I snapped a few photos of people. One that stands out to me is this one, of a homeless man. I captured it on the sly and unfortunately came out blurred but it still speaks volumes to me:
SH_Homeless_in_Israel
I can understand why this one is special. It’s that beady eye watching your every move. I can forgive the blur when it has so much meaning for you.
Another photo that stands out for me is this one of a Druze woman. She was preparing food for us in an outdoor oven in what felt like the middle of nowhere, on Mount Carmel:
SH_DruzeWoman

It’s a lovely, natural picture. Tell me something, do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so, and do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs?
I will look at them and try to understand their mood. If I can see a smile, I’ll just go ahead and take a picture; if not, I’ll ask permission. Then at other times if I can’t detect a mood, I’ll ask permission or try to take a picture without attracting attention. Sometimes it works; other times it doesn’t.

Всяк глядит, да не всяк видит. (Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.) —Russian proverb

From your descriptions, it sounds as though photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique, which will never be seen again, is a powerful force for you.
Photography and art have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. There have been times when I dreamed of becoming a professional artist or photographer. Then I came to understand that the reason I love photography so much is the freedom I feel when I manage to capture that special moment or scene. I wait for my eye to tell me: here it is, your model or subject. Relying on my inner instincts brings a sense of wonder and happiness to my soul. Being a professional would rob me of that freedom. And this way I am also free to share my photos with others.

That’s an interesting, and unselfish, perspective. From a technical point of view, some readers will want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use.
All my images so far have come from my Canon EOS 10D, I use long-range and mid-range lenses and occasionally a fish-eye lens when I feel it will capture what I’m looking for. There’s nothing really special. The post processing software I use is Picasa since it’s free and does most everything I need to do.

So all in all, it’s a simple and uncluttered approach that works for you. Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Enjoy where you’re at, don’t worry about the subject matter (each one is a lesson), and don’t let anybody tell you to take lots and lots of pictures.

I must say I agree with what you just said, assuming you mean taking loads of shots randomly in the hope that you might get a good one. That’s a lazy approach that seldom works. It’s not a good way to learn the art, and it also means you have a lot of sorting and deletions to do. I only take a lot of shots when I’m doing blurs. Sorry, I interrupted. You were saying?
Explore different angles, walk around your subject looking for the right look, imagine it, see it in your mind, then shoot. A camera isn’t a shotgun; it’s a finely tuned instrument ready to capture whatever you want. A camera is nothing more than a fancy paintbrush. You the photographer are free to decide the final look and feel. The world is your subject and the photo your canvas. Good luck!

Sound advice, Steve. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell the story of your exciting journey and for sharing so much interesting and useful information in this interview.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Steve’s experiences? If you have any questions for him on his travels and/or photos, please leave them in the comments!

If you want to get to know Steve and his work better, I suggest you visit his blog (which you can read snippets from his novelette, Under the Blood Moon), follow him on twitter and/or friend him on Facebook.

(If you are a travel-photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for more fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Some funny things happened on the way to paradise, as recorded in this brilliant new expat memoir

Paradise Imperfect Collage

Clockwise from top left, surrounding Margot Page’s author photo (center): Monteverde waterfall; the family’s front yard; Margot, her husband,and their three kids; sunset; their youngest child, Ivy, on the vine outside their house; first day of school. All photos courtesy of Margot Page.

Before introducing today’s guest, Margot Page, I’d like to make one thing clear. When I first read of her decision to uproot herself, her husband and three young kids from their comfortable life in Seattle to spend a year in Costa Rica, I thought it made perfect sense.

In fact, it reminded me of my initial decision to try living abroad. While I wasn’t married with kids, nor was I looking to land in paradise, I sensed that I needed to get a wider perspective on my own country. It was before the era of the dot com boom and crazy Wall Street wealth, but even then, we Americans were becoming a pretty spoiled and entitled lot. I almost couldn’t bear to watch it and wondered: would my life be enriched if I tried living with less?

Now that I’ve made that clear, let’s return to Margot’s story. As she notes toward the beginning of her wonderful memoir, Paradise Imperfect, Seattle in 2003 could drive a person crazy:

It was an environment that made a person constantly aware of how rich other people are.

Thanks to all the overnight Microsoft millionaires, her family often felt “downright poor,” she says, despite enjoying a high standard of living and a reasonable amount of money.

Margot missed out on her opportunity to go abroad while still single—to “confront her privilege,” as she might say. But she is feisty enough to think that she need not forgo the expat experience of her dreams. A dozen years into her marriage, she finagles it so that she and her husband, Anthony, could quit their jobs, rent out their house, and head off with their three children, 4, 9 and 12, into the mountains of Central America, for a year.

The family settles down in the cloud forest of Monteverde, where the kids attend a “school in the clouds” with many Tico classmates and the entire family works hard on mastering Spanish. While it is enjoyable to read about their adventures in that part of the world—which at one point include a trip to Nicaragua, where they received a “full-on truth assault” about what poverty really is and hence their “own, unimaginable wealth”—there are plenty of other reasons to read the book as well, not least of which is that Margot is a gifted writer possessed of a self-deprecating sense of humor (always a huge plus at the Displaced Nation). She is, in short, jolly good company, as we shall see in the interview that follows. NOTE: Margot has generously offered to GIVE AWAY ONE FREE COPY to the person who leaves the most compelling comment about why they’d like to read her book.

* * *

PI_FrontCoverMargot, pura vida! Welcome to the Displaced Nation. Many people may not realize that you waited ten years before writing a memoir about the year you and your family spent in Costa Rica. Why was that?
Actually, I did try to write the book when we first got back—I just couldn’t get it done! But the great thing about that initial effort is that I wrote down a lot of the events when they were still fresh. Then, when I was actually ready to write the book, I was able take those stories and stand back from them, and see the picture they formed. You might liken it to an impressionist painting. Up close, I could have looked at an event from that year and said “Hmm, nice dot.” But with the distance of time, I could see that all the dots made a picture, with form and theme and sense. Had I managed to get it written right away, Paradise Imperfect would have been a completely different book.

Did you ever think of writing a novel instead?
More than one publisher suggested I turn Paradise Imperfect into a novel. Fictionalizing your story really lets you pile on the crises. Memoir only has a chance with the big publishing houses these days if you’re either already a celebrity (Tina Fey, Hillary), or if something truly hideous happened to you. If I’d had to saw off my arm or a couple of the kids were on meth, the big houses would have been all over me. As it was, they were very “Ooooh, we love your writing! Can you turn it into a novel?” Because then of course I could introduce some addictions or incest or something—you know, the stuff that really makes a story pop.

You went from a harried existence with very little work-life balance in Seattle, to a carefree, pura vida existence in Monteverde. Looking back, what do you think was your strongest impetus for packing it all in like that?
I think my impetus was about the same as anyone’s who’s living a busy, full life and has one of those days where you just feel like you’re running the whole time. The only difference is that a lot of people take a bubble bath at the end of that day, maybe pour a glass of wine—whereas I rented out the house and bought airplane tickets. It’s still not entirely clear to me what made that night different from a bubble bath night. Although clearly, the bubbles weren’t doing it for me anymore.

From reading the book, I know that even though you didn’t work in Costa Rica, you were far from idle. You applied yourself to learning Spanish and also did some volunteering—which had the added benefit of helping you practice your Spanish.
Yes, I went from working more than full time to volunteering a few hours each week at an amazing art gallery/studio; one of the owners painted me the piece of a woman in a hammock, stretching her toes to heaven, which became the cover of Paradise Imperfect. So while the kids did their homework, I would work on my Spanish, or practice painting assignments.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”

No doubt you’re familiar with the expression “Be careful what you wish for”. Was all the family togetherness as wonderful as you were hoping?
The initial period, when it was just the five of us, on top of each other all the time—that was a real challenge. It’s a good thing to have done, but it wasn’t so delightful in the doing. Of course, as we grew into our lives there, other people got incorporated, which was great. Kids would go off with friends, people would come over. And, as time passed and we adjusted to the conditions, we found all kinds of goofy things to do with ourselves. We had dance parties in the living room, just the five of us. We’d walk several kilometers just to get a milkshake and go to the library. There was much flopping around in hammocks with books and conversation. And with no sports practices to work around, dinner was a nightly togetherness event, with kids helping cook and clean the kitchen.

When I saw the title to your book, I was thinking of Milton’s Paradise Lost. In your case, paradise was imperfect. Why is that?
Paradise is imperfect because people are. We just ARE, and putting us in front of a really pretty waterfall just means you have flawed, funny people in front of a really pretty waterfall. In Costa Rica, we were strangers in a strange land together, and that made us incredibly close—which was wonderful, but you know, the closer you are, the more blemishes you can see. Wherever we go in the world, we take our human frailties with us.

You were the one with the original idea to take your family to Costa Rica. Were there any moments for you personally when you could say that you felt displaced and had made a mistake? 
Honestly, I never had that moment. At Christmas during our Costa Rica year—I put this in the book—the kids were lonely, and the possibility hit me hard that maybe the whole escapade was just a tremendously selfish act, bringing the kids on this adventure that was really for ME. But I never once felt like it was the wrong thing for me.

Here at the Displaced Nation, we call that your “pool of tears” moment.

“Sweet is the breath of morn…/With charm of earliest birds…/fragrant the fertile earth/After soft showers”

Was there a particular moment when you felt you were born to be Costa Rican rather than American? Having read the book, I can think of quite a few: when visiting your children’s “school in the sky,” when coming across new flora & fauna, or when tasting the fried chicken from El Super Pollo in Monteverde.
I had those moments almost every day, that Costa Rica was exactly where I belonged. But I think it was usually tinged with “I am exactly where I belong right now.” And although it was hard to leave, coming back to the States felt right, too. One of the fun things about that year, paradoxically, was that it gave me the chance to fall back in love with being an American. Back home, I’d been pretty upset with the political landscape. But when you travel, you get a different perspective on what truly corrupt government can look like, and you think “You know, we all wish Congress would do their jobs, but it appears that not having your shit together is not, in fact, the very worst crime a government can perpetrate on its people.”

You say you were happy to get back to Seattle, but did you miss Costa Rica once you returned? 
We definitely missed Costa Rica, and the way we got to live there. My son, Harry, spent a semester in Monteverde a few years after our family returned. When he got home, he smelled fried chicken and had this super strong sense memory of Super Pollo in Monteverde. He said:

I love it there so much. And I love Seattle so much. And it’s great, having two places to love. But it also means that, no matter where I am, I’m always just a little bit homesick.

Unlike many of our readers who are long-term expats, you stayed abroad only for a year. But the impact appears to have been lasting.
All our kids are travelers, now. And I can’t see a freighter without wanting to jump on it. My husband, Anthony, seems to have the travel bug the least, but that is not surprising. As I mention in the book, he’s a congenitally satisfied person 🙂

“Thou shalt possess a Paradise within thee, happier far.”

When you got back to Seattle, was it back to the grind for you and your husband, or was your outlook somehow different?
The hours went back to being a similar breakdown to what we had before, though there was much less parental shuttling as our kids had become brilliant walkers and public-transit-takers. 
But the most important change was internal: We knew in a much clearer way that we had made a choice to live in this way. And our family also had a core togetherness as a result of that year in Costa Rica. Even when we’re geographically scattered, we feel together in a way I didn’t feel before. I attribute it to our common challenge of spending a year figuring out a new language and culture. Think about it: When do parents and kids ever have the opportunity to learn something so fundamental as how to speak, all at the same time?

And one more repat question: Did your family retain its social conscience, developed over the course of that year of learning to live with less?
I think we’ve kept an in-our-bones awareness of the fact of our own, sheer luck. I used to tell myself “I’ve worked really hard for what we have,” which is true! But you know what else is true? A lot of people work just as hard, and don’t have any cushion, and never will. That year in Costa Rica also developed us as people who will keep getting out there. Our son, Harry, was recently in South America, and while many of his peers tend to backpack and look at things until their parents’ money gives out, he got a job waiting tables. Our older daughter, Hannah, recently graduated college and moved to a new city; she hasn’t asked for a dime to help get started, and the housing she can afford is frankly a little appalling—but she is so spunky and awesome about it! And Ivy, the youngest, is currently back in Costa Rica, where she goes to school and helps out in the small hotel that her family runs.

Treading the publishing path

Moving back to the book: what was the most difficult part of the writing process?
Finding the discipline to cut was just excruciating. There are so many fun little stories that didn’t make it into the book. Stories I slaved over! Sentences I loved! But the difference between writing a legit book and just publishing your journal all cleaned up is that you really do have to kill your darlings, as Faulkner or whoever said. At the time I was finalizing, I thought I had cut absolutely down to the bone. But now, looking back—I think I could have killed more darlings.

Why did you publish with a small press?
That decision was made on the advice of my agent. As already mentioned, the big publishing houses told me I needed more crisis, but my agent loved the book and wanted me to be true to my experience. I simply don’t grant that there isn’t interest and beauty in true stories of normal people. You have to tell them well, of course.

What audience did you have in mind for the book?
My ideas about audience went from something pretty specific to something much more general. People always think we’re this crazy alt family that’s always up to wild shenanigans. Or else they think we’re obscenely wealthy, and had no economic issue in quitting our jobs. But we’re actually so mainstream! So I wanted to show regular people: “If we could do this, you totally could.”

But it quickly became clear the audience is basically everyone who likes a good story. Men, women, people with kids, people without kids, people with grown kids—the different populations that have responded has been really lovely. Some people are planning a big adventure and are actively looking for inspiration, but the vast majority just love the people they meet and the events that unfold in the book.

The most fun for me is when women say “I got your book but I haven’t read it yet, because my husband is totally hogging it!” I can’t say why it’s so rewarding for me that Paradise isn’t just a chick book, but it really, really is.

What’s next for the indefatigable Margot—more books? Other creative projects?
I write for magazines about topics that interest me. Although I’m not Catholic, I’m nuts about the head of their church—I call him Pope Frantastic. And in the next year, I’m going to seriously embark on the novel that’s been in my head. I’m trying very hard to be a Twitter user, but really? I find the whole idea enormously intimidating.

How’s your Spanish these days, your art?
My Spanish and art—ack. Let’s just say I really hit my zenith during that year away.

10 Questions for Margot Page

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Wow, that is a hard question! It’s the “truly” that’s stressing me out. I’m going with Fidelity, a five-story collection by Wendell Berry. It is the most beautiful arrangement of sentences ever organized about how to be a person.
2. Favorite literary genre: Any book that someone in my family read and then gave it to me saying: “You HAVE to read this; you will love it so much.”
3. Reading habits on a plane: I’m actually really smug about what a light traveler I am, so my reading usually tends to be any book I’ve been meaning to read that I won’t mind leaving behind. Or airport magazines (Harper’s, The Atlantic). I try to read trashy magazines because it seems like that’s what you’re supposed to do, but honestly I just can’t bring myself to give money to the people who are putting this crap in the world.
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson. I just don’t trust anyone to run the country who doesn’t love Calvin. That’s my litmus test, right there.
5. Favorite books as a child: Mandy, by Julie Edwards. I must have read that book a hundred times. It’s about a girl who finds a garden and makes it hers. It’s like The Secret Garden but has a lot more soul and a lot fewer sideshows. It’s just a beautiful story of a lonely girl who sets out to heal her own little heart, and in the process finds people to help. And Julie Edwards (who, amazingly enough, is also the actress Julie Andrews) wrote it because she lost a bet about swearing to her daughter. I have a lot of respect for that whole situation.
6. Favorite heroine: Claudia from From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg. I love Claudia. I never was her, as a kid—I was much more like her reckless little brother, Jamie. But as an adult and a parent, I relate to Claudia much more. She went to the museum for reasons not unlike the ones that took me to Costa Rica. She had to go get a piece of her self back, a piece she had lost to her role as responsible big sister. Mine was as responsible mama and breadwinner, but those roles are not so dissimilar. Claudia’s cooler than I am, though, just by nature of being 12. And in New York.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: The thing is, my fantasies around meeting writers all revolve around how incredible it will be that this amazing, brilliant human is interested in ME. But writers are total crazed narcissists! Have you noticed? So my scenario is unlikely. That said, I think Donald Barthelme and I could have a pretty good time, if he’d just stop being dead for a minute. He wouldn’t be interested in what I had to say and I wouldn’t really care. I’d just listen to what he said and then we’d have pie.
8. Your reading habits: I read every single day on the bus to and from the office. This makes going to an office infinitely more tolerable.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: I gotta be honest here. Paradise Imperfect.
10. The book you plan to read next: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan. I’m traveling right now, and it’s next to me on the seat.

* * *

So, readers, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Margot? Do you admire her decision to trade in her family’s packed schedules for a life of monkeys and footpaths, which is almost paradise? Or do you think she was crazy? Do you identify with any of her motives or epiphanies, thinking (as I do) that extended trips overseas should be encouraged for Americans?

Don’t forget, there’s a FREE digital copy on offer that will go to the best commenter…

And if you can’t wait to read the book or don’t win, Paradise Imperfect is available from Amazon (among other venues). Peruse the many five-star reviews, and be sure to grab a copy! You can also visit the book’s companion site (where you can read about Margot’s other writings, including a Modern Love column for the New York Times), like its Facebook page +/or follow Margot on Twitter, where she’s now testing her wings.

STAY TUNED for more fab posts!

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5 movies for expats and world travelers looking to stir up romance this Valentine’s Day

Editor’s note: Today we are happy to welcome a new member to the Displaced Nation team, Andy Martin. His debut post introduces our two favorite February’s themes: Valentine’s Day (aka expat love) and displaced movies (in honor of Oscar season). For those who haven’t read Andy’s Random Nomad interview with us, it’s worth knowing that he’s a UK-qualified social worker who now lives in Brazil with his Brazilian wife, and a self-professed football geek.

One of the things I discovered when I moved to Brazil is that Valentine’s Day is not actually celebrated here until 12th June, where it is instead known as Dia dos Namorados (Boyfriend’s/Girlfriend’s Day). The reasoning for this is that 12th June is the eve of St. Anthony’s Day, the saint otherwise known as “the marriage saint.”

Additionally, what the rest of us know as Valentine’s Day (14th February) typically falls during or around the time of Carnaval, and anyone who knows anything about the excesses of Carnaval knows that a holiday to celebrate fidelity may probably be best left until later in the year — say, June time.

Anyhow, seeing as my wife has lived in the UK and now openly embraces British culture she’s suggested that it would only be proper to celebrate both the British and Brazilian holidays — she’s a clever one! And what more traditional way to celebrate than a trip to the cinema?

Bearing this in mind, I’ve made a list of 5 films that couples like us — multicultural, expat, glolo and/or nomadic — might like to watch this coming Valentine’s Day, to stir up the romance of travel that brought you together in the first place…

The one about adventure

IndianaJones_small1) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), dir. Steven Spielberg
An action-adventure drama that pits Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) against a group of Nazis who are searching for the Ark of the Covenant because Adolf Hitler believes it will make their army invincible.

Why I like it: The original Indiana Jones trilogy was released between 1981 and 1989, and despite the pointless release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, it will forever remain, for my generation at least, what introduced us to the potential excitement of exploring the unknown.

Personal note: I love my in-laws but they neglected their parenting duties in one pretty big way: their failure to introduce my wife to Indiana Jones (a situation that has, thankfully, now been rectified).

Most stunning aspect: Let’s face it, any film that can make archaeology seem like the coolest profession in the world has got to be doing something right hasn’t it?

The ones with the romantic clichés

The traveler is often accused of being a romantic, an idealist and of someone who is running away from life and all the problems and commitments that go with it. The alternative argument is that the traveler is actually taking life by the scruff of the neck and living it to the full.

Either way, two films that best capture this dialectic are the two that often most lionized by today’s generation of travelers:

IntotheWild_small2) Into the Wild (2007), dir. Sean Penn
An adaptation (also by Penn) of the book of the same name, by Jon Krakauer, depicting the true story of Chris McCandless, a 24 year-old American and persistent wanderer whom believed that there was more to life than settling for the 9-5 grind in an office.

Why I like it: My wife introduced me to it (her riposte to my Indiana Jones exasperation). She had watched it early on in our relationship, when she was in Brazil and I was in London — a genuinely long distance relationship.

Personal note: She said that the film’s protagonist, Chris McCandless, reminded her of me — although fortunately our story has had a bit of a happier ending than his (I’ll say no more in order not to ruin it for you).

No half-measures: Boy did McCandless walk the walk, giving away his $24,000 college fund to charity before hitchhiking to Alaska and plunging into the wilderness, gradually seeking the means to remove himself from the “real world. ”

TheMotorcyleDiaries_small3) The Motorcycle Diaries (Spanish: Diarios de motocicleta) (2004), dir. Walter Salles
A biopic of Ernesto “Che” Guevara as a young man, representing an adaptation of Che’s memoir of the same name, recounting the trip he made around South America with his best friend, Alberto Granado.

Why I like it: Whatever you view of Che is, there is actually relatively little politics in the film, although one is introduced to some of the experiences that started to inform what he later became in life. Instead, for the most part, this is a film which perfectly captures what is to be young and curious of the world outside your own town or city. Che and Alberto chase beautiful landscapes and beautiful people, but also volunteer their time to those less fortunate than themselves.

Personal note: This film was the tipping point in inspiring me to travel around South America.

Memorable scene: There’s a great scene that highlights the dichotomy between the travel romanticized by “travelers” and that which is driven by the needs of most other migrants around the world — the topic of my guest post last month for The Displaced Nation. In it Che and Alberto meet an indigenous couple who have been forced from their lands and who are traveling in order to find work. When the couple ask Alberto and Che why they are traveling, they reply: “We travel just to travel.” Confused, the wife replies: “God bless you.”

The one about being displaced

Lost_in_Translation_small4) Lost in Translation (2003), dir. Sofia Coppola
The story of the unlikely bond between an aging movie star, played by the awesome Bill Murray, and a trailing spouse (Scarlett Johansson), after they meet in the bar of their five star hotel in Tokyo.

Why I like it: Life as a nomad is not all about romantic adventures and life-changing experiences — there are also just as many challenges and struggles: homesickness, culture shock and loss being just some of them. Lost in Translation is, perhaps, one of the films that best explores some of these issues.

Additional benefits: The story is poignant, and the film is beautifully shot.

The one that’s not actually about travel or expats

Blood_into_Wine_small5) Blood Into Wine (2010), dirs. Ryan Page & Christopher Pomerenke
A documentary about the Northern Arizona wine industry focusing on the musician Maynard James Keenan and Eric Glomski and their winery, Caduceus Cellers.

Why I like it: This film doesn’t really have anything to do with either travel or expat life, but I’m including it here because it’s about one of my favorite artists: Maynard James Keenan. A slightly biased choice perhaps, but I think it deserves a merit for the way it encapsulates the spirit of those people who have dreams and then act upon them to make them happen — a spirit which, I think, drives many of us travelers and expats.

Maynard’s dream: Maynard dreams of starting a vineyard in Arizona. Yes, Arizona. Despite the doubts and concerns of the experts he consulted Maynard invested almost his entire fortune, made from working with the bands Tool and A Perfect Circle, to start a vineyard in Arizona — a state entirely unknown for growing wine.

Does he succeed? You’ll have to watch it, I guess… And don’t forget to invite a date!

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Readers, what do you think of Andy’s suggestions? Are these the sorts of films that make you feel romantic, or do you think he’s bonkers? We’re open to any and all comments…as well as to further recommendations of films likely to bring out the romantic side in us glomads!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post from our monthly columnist, James Murray, who right now can be found in front of his fireplace in Boston — and not because he’s in a romantic mood! Far from it…

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Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (2/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportWelcome back to the holiday party we are throwing for the expats and other global voyagers who washed up on our shores in 2012. Remember all those Random Nomads who proposed to make us exotic meals based on their far-ranging meanderings? Not to mention their suitcases full of treasures they’d collected and their vocabularies full of strange words… How are they doing these days, and do they have any exciting plans for the holidays? Second in a three-part series (Part One here).

The second third of 2012 brought quite an intriguing (albeit as random as ever) bunch of nomads our way — intriguing because most of them have had experience with spouses from other cultures, suggesting that the point made by one of their number, Wendy Williams, about the globalization of love has some validity. They are:

  • Wendy Williams, the Canadian who is as happy as Larry living with her Austrian husband and their daughter in Vienna.
  • Suzanne Kamata, an American writer who went to Japan on the JET program, married a Japanese man, and made her home on Shikoku Island.
  • Isabelle Bryer, a French artist who feels as though she’s on a permanent vacation because of landing in LA — she’s lived there for years with her American husband and family.
  • Jeff Jung, formerly of corporate America but now an entrepreneur who promotes career breaks from his new base in Bogotá, Colombia.
  • Lynne Murphy, the lovely lexicologist who landed in — I want to say “London” for the alliteration, but it’s Sussex, UK. And yes, despite not being the marrying type, she now treasures her wedding ring of Welsh gold!
  • Melissa Stoey, the former expat in Britain who, despite no longer living in the UK, has a half-British son and remains passionate about all things British.
  • Antrese Wood, the American artist who is busy painting her way around Argentina, having married into the culture.

I’m happy to say that three of this esteemed group are with us today. What have they been up to since nearly a year ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays?

Wendy_Williams1) WENDY WILLIAMS

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Yes, I’ve spent less time at my desk and more time travelling since the publication of my book, The Globalisation of Love. Given the title, I guess I should have expected it.

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
Since I have “gone native” in Austria, I will be skiing during the holidays. Yipppeeee!

What do you most look forward to eating?
I most look forward to eating a Germknödel, which is a big ball of dough filled with plum sauce and covered in melted butter. Apparently, it has 1,000 calories and I savour every last one. If no one is looking, I lick the plate.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. A Nile Adventure — cruising and other stories, by Kim Molyneaux — a light-hearted story of one family’s journey to and adventures in Egypt, both ancient and modern.
  2. Mint Tea to Maori Tattoo!, by Carolina Veranen-Phillips, an account from a fearless female backpacker — is there anywhere she hasn’t been?!
  3. Secrets of a Summer Village, by Saskia Akyil: an intercultural coming-of-age novel for young adults, but a cute read for adults, too.

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
More time with friends & family and more writing, the two of which are completely counter-productive in my case.

Any upcoming travel plans?
I am only happy when I have a plane ticket in my pocket so there are always trips planned. Didn’t René Descartes write, “I travel, therefore I am” — or something like that? The year will start with Germany, Ukraine, Spain and Canada.

SuzanneKamata_festive2) SUZANNE KAMATA

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
I sold my debut YA novel, Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible, about a biracial (Japanese/American) girl who travels to Paris with her sculptor Mom, to GemmaMedia. It will be published in May 2013. I was also honored to receive a grant for my work-in-progress, a mother/daughter travel memoir, from the Sustainable Arts Foundation.

How will you be spending the holidays?
We are planning a little jaunt to Osaka between Christmas and New Year’s, but mostly, we’ll be staying at home.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
I’m looking forward to eating fried chicken and Christmas cake, which is what we traditionally have here in Japan on Christmas Eve. There are all kinds of Christmas cakes, but my family likes the kind made of ice cream.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. The Girl with Borrowed Wings is a beautifully written contemporary paranormal novel featuring a biracial Third Culture Kid. The author herself, Rinsai Rossetti, is a TCK. She wrote this book when she was a student at Dartmouth. It’s unique and lovely and captures that in-between feeling of those who live in lots of different countries.
  2. I also enjoyed I Taste Fire, Earth, Rain: Elements of a Life with a Sherpa, by Caryl Sherpa, an American woman who went on a round-the-world trip and fell in love with a Sherpa while trekking in Nepal.
  3. Oh, and Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Hmmm. Exercise more (same as last year). Also, I resolve to finish a draft of my next novel.

Last but not least, any upcoming travel plans?
Yes! I’m planning on taking my daughter to Paris.

Jeff at Turkish Embassy3) JEFF JUNG

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Since the interview, I launched my first book, The Career Break Traveler’s Handbook. It’s available online at most major book stores in both print and e-versions. And, we’re on the verge of launching Season 1 of our TV show, The Career Break Travel Show, internationally. It includes adventures in South Africa, Spain, New Zealand and Patagonia. We’re just waiting for the new channel to launch.

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
After spending a quiet Christmas in Bogotá, I’ll head off to Washington, DC for my best friend’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. Then I’m off to Texas to see my parents for about ten days.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
As far as food goes, I’m most looking forward to turkey and my dad’s award-winning BBQ.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
This year I read Dream. Save. Do., by Betsy and Warren Talbot. It’s a great book to help people achieve whatever goal they have.

Speaking of goals, any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Personally, I need to drop a bit of weight. I spent too much time writing and editing in 2012! Professionally, I want to see The Career Break Travel Show find its audience so we can head out to film Season 2!

Last but not least, any exciting travel plans?
I plan to travel for the filming of our second season (countries still to be determined). I also have the chance to go to Romania to volunteer at a bear rescue with Oyster Worldwide. It’ll be a mini-career break for me. I can’t wait.

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Readers, this lot seems just as productive, if not more so, than the last one! Any questions for them — don’t you want to know their secret?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post by the Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, Mary-Sue — she wraps up 2012 by paying a visit to several of this year’s questioners: did they take her advice?!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Images: Passport photo from Morguefiles; portrait photos are from the nomads.

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