The Displaced Nation

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TCK TALENT: The “Where are you from?” question evokes poetic sentiments in this third group of TCKs

Columnist Dounia Bertuccelli is back with a third round of poems composed by Third Culture Kids in answer to that vexed “where are you from?” question.

Hello again, fellow Displaced Nationers, global nomads, expats, Third Culture Kids and other curious travelers! As March comes in like a lion (here on the U.S. East Coast, where Winter Storm Riley has become a strong nor’easter, hitting us with wind, snow and rain), I’d like to present the third post in my series of TCK poetry. If you missed the first two, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2.

The poems are the work of a group of 11th and 12th graders at an international school in Malta. Their teacher wanted them to think more deeply about what “home” means for them, given that they are all growing up in more than one country.

Before we leave the topic of the weather: We in the Western Hemisphere may be growing tired of winter at this point (the so-called Beast from the East has just swept across Europe). But it’s interesting to note that although all three of the young people featured below are from colder countries than Malta, which enjoys mild winters and warm-to-hot summers, two of them recall the winter season in their poetry. Hm, does absence make the heart grow fonder?

* * *

Where I’m From
By Yoana Tsekova

I’m from the Southeast,
from the Black Sea,
from aromatic rose oil and healing rivers
From weddings and divorces
surrounded by cave paintings.

I’m from movement to fill space,
from applauses and projectors and sleepless nights.
From the ashes of the campfire,
from shaking heads for ‘yes’,
and nodding for ‘no’.

I’m from here and from there
From water balloon gaffes
From white lies to protect friends,
From moments and laughs.

There is a small country that no one knows about.
And there is a small girl that everyone teaches how.
I’m from there—
from gold and rust
And easy trust.

Yoana is Bulgarian and she lived in Malta from 2015 to 2017.

Where I’m From
By Ivan Orlav

I can see a lot of cars
but few people from the window
I can smell the kitchen scents
mixed with the paint from my porch—
Sweet and chemical.

I feel the heat inside the house
and the cold outside the door
I shiver during winter
and feel refreshed during summer.

I’m from the white wool
falling from the sky,
cooling the ground,
for two thirds of the year.


Editor’s Note: We are checking on Ivan Orlav’s country of origin but suspect it is Russia.

Where I’m From
By Judith Smit

I am from Napoleon Bonaparte’s bronze soil,
I am from the silver trust in the eyes of a horse.
I am from the blonde country’s golden hair.

I am from surviving
And winning over the lower levels.
From creativity and freedom
And the possibilities that create dreams.
I am from diversity
And from sharing stroopwafels.

I am from the red
Blood flowing on an ancient stone wall,
From the white
Belly of a Burmese mountain dog,
From the blue
wavy water that never ceases.

I am the fiery clean energy,
The air scented by tulips,
And the unexpected weather.

Judith is from the Netherlands; she has lived in Malta and Holland.

* * *

We love to hear from our readers, so please leave any thoughts, questions, suggestions—and yes, poetry—in the comments! During the last round, it was great to get a poem from Cinda MacKinnon, an Adult Third Culture Kid and novelist whose work has been featured on the Displaced Nation. You can read it here.

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; and is a freelance writer and editor. 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.

STAY TUNED for more fab posts!

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

Related posts:

Photo credits:
– Photo of Bulgaria by Alexandr Bormotin on Unsplash
– Photo of Russian snow by Anton Scherbakov on Unsplash
– Photo of stroopwafels from Pixabay.

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EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: What score does Apple Gidley earn on the “international creative” scale? (2/2)


Readers, we had a long pause in this episode of the Expat Author Game, for which I heartily apologize. Christmas and New Year’s intervened, and the Displaced Nation has been hibernating during January. But it’s February now and we are back again, in time for Valentine’s Week! It seems appropriate that in this post we will be playing the second round of our Expat Author game with Apply Gidley. Her debut novel, Fireburn, is, at heart, a love story—for a man and an island.

For those who are catching up, in Round One Apple came up with a winning algorithm for Fireburn, her debut novel that takes place in the Danish West Indies in the 1870s. During this round, we’ll be trying to see how closely Apple measures up to the Displaced Nation’s (admittedly somewhat quirky) notion of an “international creative.”

On the face of it, Apple has one of the best claims we’ve ever heard to being “international.” Born to an Australian mother and a British father, she spent her childhood in Nigeria, the UK, Australia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea. She met her husband in Papua New Guinea, after which her travels continued as his career in oil took them all over the world. Their two children were born in the Netherlands and Thailand, and nowadays the couple calls two places home: downtown Houston and the US Virgin Islands: specifically, the island of St Croix, where the action of Fireburn takes place. Apple says she enjoys the contrast between the vibrancy of city life and the relaxed pace of the Islands.

Furthermore, I think it’s fair to call Apple “creative”. You can read about the many roles she has played on her author site, but what I’m most curious about is what caused her to don Kareni headdress in the above photo. Was she paying a visit to the hill tribes of in northern Thailand? Perhaps she’ll enlighten us in the comments.

I am also rather impressed that, although her only formal training was as a secretary (she attended secretarial college in the UK), Apple now serves on the Advisory Board of the University Museum at Texas Southern University, one of the premiere museums celebrating African American art and artifacts in Houston. One should never underestimate Ms. Gidley! No sooner has she landed somewhere but she can be found immersing herself in the local history, community and culture.

Without further ado, let’s resume the Expat Author Game and see how Apple manages Round Two, where points are scored for intangible indicators of an expansive, global outlook and the ability to take a creative approach to exploring the world.

Welcome back to the Displaced Nation, Apple. As you may know, many of our residents, myself included, have confessed that the expat life has made them feel like a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. How about you? Are there any lines from this classic work that resonate with you?

Having lived in 12 countries, relocated 26 times and now living between two places, I’d have to pick

“Who in the world am I? Ah, THAT’S the great puzzle.”

One of the joys of global mobility as an accompanying spouse is the opportunity to reinvent oneself—something I have done many times, as you mentioned in your introduction. I’ve sold diving equipment in Texas, edited a magazine for an international charity in Singapore and Thailand, sprung Brits from jail in Equatorial Guinea and decorated pubs in Aberdeen—and now I’m a writer! I have occasionally wondered which hat I am meant to be wearing at any given time.

Which leads onto the next quote:

“..it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

One of the hardest relocations is the final one—repatriation. Perhaps that why I live in two places.


Moving on to the next literature-related challenge: According to George Elliot’s Maggie Tulliver, the best reason to leave her native village of St. Ogg’s would be to see other creatures like the elephant. What’s the most exotic animal you’ve observed in its native setting?

In South Africa, at Mala Mala, I watched a leopard prowl around the base of a tree. Her kill—an impala she had hauled up into the fork of the tree—was being eyed by a hyena lying nearby ready to pounce if any part of the mutilated antelope fell. The leopard’s strength and perseverance was humbling, as was her beauty.


Last but not least in this series of literary challenges: We’re curious about whether you’ve had any “Wizard of Oz” moments when venturing across borders. Again, please use a quote or two. You can also pick quotes from other literary works if you like…

Saying goodbye is one of the most underrated things in a nomadic life but if we don’t say “goodbye” well, it is hard to open our hearts to saying “hello” to new people, new cultures, new adventures. The Wizard of Oz got it right:

“It’s not where you go but who you meet along the way.”

It’s always about the people, both local and other expatriates. It is they who make the place, who share their customs (some of which we might not like but of which we must always be respectful even if trying to make changes to long held traditions), their foods, their belief. And some of those people we will, inevitably, lose touch with even in the age of the internet. That’s okay, because we have had the pleasure of knowing them in a certain time and place.

And secondly, I love the following quote from The Magic Pudding, an Australian children’s classic (it was first published in 1918), by the wonderful author and illustrator, Norman Lindsay. It is a story about how Bunyip Bluegum, a koala bear, meets a grumpy pudding called Albert. My mother was Australian, and this is one of the books I remember her reading to me as a child. This is quite long but it says it all, even if I have lugged around a great deal more than suggested!

“The fact is,” said the Bunyip, “I have decided to see the world, and I cannot make up my mind whether to be a Traveller or a Swagman. Which would you advise?”

Then said the Poet,

“As you have no bags it’s plain to see
A traveller you cannot be;
And as a swag you haven’t either
You cannot be a swagman neither.
For travellers must carry bags,
And swagmen have to hump their swags
Like bottle-ohs or ragmen.
As you have neither swag nor bag
You must remain a simple wag,
And not a swag or bagman.”

“Dear me,” said Bunyip Bluegum, “I never thought of that. What must I do in order to see the world without carrying swags or bags?”

The Poet thought deeply, put on his eyeglass, and said impressively,

“Take my advice, don’t carry bags,
For bags are just as bad as swags;
They’re never made to measure.
To see the world, your simple trick
Is but to take a walking stick
Assume an air of pleasure,
And tell the people near and far
You stroll about because you are
A Gentleman of Leisure.”

“You have solved the problem,” said Bunyip Bluegum, and, wringing his friend’s hand, he ran straight home, took his Uncle’s walking stick, and assuming an air of pleasure, set off to see the world.


Moving on to another dimension of creativity: telling tales of one’s travels through photos. Can you share with us a favorite photo or two you’ve taken recently that in some way relate to your creative life, and tell us why these photos have meaning for you?

Here is a view of Christiansted Wharf today. Christiansted was the capital of the Danish West Indies. Apart from a couple of new buildings in the background, this scene has not changed much since the 1870s when Anna arrived back on St Croix from her ten-year exile in London. It was the history all around me—the Danish architecture, the ruins of sugar mills, the skeletons of plantation houses and slave quarters—that helped me formulate the background for Fireburn.

My second photo shows my desk in Houston. It has all my favourite books within grasp, and my favourite photos on view. My excuse for a cluttered desk is that I am a firm believer in Einstein’s theory that a clean desk represents an empty mind.


And now for our interplanetary challenge: Can you envision taking your exploration of other modes of being beyond Planet Earth? How about a trip to Mars?

I wouldn’t! I’m rather fond of planet earth and think we need to concentrate on saving it before readying ourselves to destroy a new one.

* * *

Congratulations, Apple! As anticipated, you aced Part Two of the Expat Authors Game. I absolutely love the idea of a magic pudding named Albert telling a koala bear named Bunyip Bluegum that if he wants to see the world, he should carry a walking stick and assume an air of pleasure.

Readers, are you ready to score Apple’s performance on Part Two? How did she do with her literary references? And what about that animal of hers, of which she even supplied a photo! Speaking of photos, that photo of her in a headdress is quite something, and I have to say, I agree with her about having a messy desk: writers need to create nests!

Finally please note: If you are burning (so to speak) to explore the world Apple conjures up in her novel (which her other photo, of Christiansted Wharf in St. Croix, illustrates), be sure to visit her author site. You can also follow her on Twitter, where she announces her next book readings.

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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

Related posts:

Photo credits: All photos supplied by Apple Gidley; photos in section heads are from Pixabay.

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: Apple Gidley’s algorithm for “Fireburn” (1/2)


Welcome to the fourth round of our Expat Author Game, in which global creative Apple Gidley has agreed to be the participant. For some of you, Apple requires no introduction. She has been on our site before, when Displaced Nation co-founder Kate Allison reviewed her memoir, Expat Life: Slice by Slice.

Apple also fits right in at the Displaced Nation. On her author site, Apple brands herself as Nomad | Author. That “nomad” comes first reflects the way she has lived almost since birth. Her Anglo-Australian family moved to Nigeria when she was just one month old. After that Apple assumed the mantle of global itinerant: she has lived and worked in countries as diverse as Papua New Guinea, Thailand, The Netherlands and nine others. She currently divides her time between downtown Houston and St. Croix.

Spending time in St. Croix, which is now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, fired up, so to speak, Apple’s imagination. She recently produced her debut novel, Fireburn, a book that readers say transports you completely and totally to another place and another time: to Caribbean life in the 1870s. The book’s name derives from an actual event that took place in 1878, when St. Croix was part of the Danish West Indies. Fireburn was the name given to a slave uprising that was led by three Crucian women, who are today considered heroines throughout the islands. Houses, fields, sugar mills and stores on nearly fifty St. Croix plantations were set ablaze. Over half the city of Frederiksted was left in ruins.

But if the book takes place against the backdrop of a slave revolt playing out in acts of arson—in fact, Fireburn came out on October 1, 2017, to commemorate Fireburn’s anniversary—it is also a love story. The protagonist, Anna, an Anglo-Dane, returns to her beloved home, a plantation called Anna’s Fancy, after her mother dies, only to find that her father has let it go to seed. She makes a disastrous marriage to her neighbor, Carl Pederson, after which she realizes that the man she truly loves is her black foreman, Sampson. As one reader says of Anna and Sampson: “They are oceans apart not just in status but in cultures too.”

Now let’s play Part One of the Expat Author Game and see what Apple comes up with as an algorithm for her novel, for its burning story of passion and rebellion.

* * *

If we like Fireburn, which movie/musical/play/TV series would we also like?

Jean Rhys’s wonderful book about the first Mrs Rochester, Wide Sargasso Sea, was made into a BBC movie about ten years ago. Although it was based in Jamaica, the sultry setting would give readers a feel reminiscent to 1870s St Croix where Fireburn takes places. Add inappropriate relationships (for the time), the sights and sounds and tastes of the Caribbean, the relief when the Trade Winds return after the brooding heat of mid-hurricane season and you’ll be right in the mood for …


What meal or dish would go well with reading your book?

A cassava chicken croquette (a dish Emiline, Anna’s black servant-cum-cook, makes)—but remember, if not cooked properly cassava, known in the US as tapioca, can produce cyanide. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:
1 egg, beaten
2 cups well cooked then mashed cassava
1 cup cooked, diced chicken
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1 tsp salt
pinch of pepper
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 cup milk (or you can use coconut milk)
1 cup breadcrumbs
oil for frying

Method
Mix egg, cassava, chicken, onion, salt & pepper, parsley and a little milk to make the mixture firm but not soggy. Make croquettes, then dip in remaining milk and roll in breadcrumbs. Fry until golden. Drain well. Croquettes can either be “meal” sized or finger food…


If your book had a signature cocktail, what would it be?

It should be washed down with a rum punch—preferably Cruzan Rum!


Are there any special clothes/headgear/costumes/accessories we could wear to put us in the mood for reading your book?

Emiline is fond of wearing colourful scarves wrapped around her head—she often matches the cushion covers and curtains as she tends to use left-over bits of fabric!


If we wanted to take a mini-trip to understand your story better, where would you recommend we travel and which sights should we take in?

Well that’s easy—you must come to St Croix! Though now part of the US Virgin Islands, it used to be owned by Denmark and formed part of the Danish West Indies, as you explained in your introduction. Much of the Danish architecture lines the streets of Christiansted—foot-thick walls, shuttered windows, galleries and inner courtyards. Frederiksted, on the west end of the island, has some buildings left—but much was burnt in “fireburn”. As you mentioned, Fireburn was the name given to the 1878 slave uprising that took place in the Danish West Indies. You can also visit Fort Christiansvaern and Fort Frederik, both of which were constructed between the mid-1700s and mid-1800s to protect Christiansted and Frederiksted from smugglers, pirates, and European invaders; to collect taxes on exports and imports; and to deter slave rebellions. Both forts are open to the public and give a real feel of what it was like to serve in the military then—a hard life for the common soldier/sailor. Then you absolutely must take a maxi-taxi to St George Village Botanical Garden—recovering after damage sustained from Hurricane Maria—where you will get an idea of the layout for the plantation at Anna’s Fancy.

* * *

So, readers, tell us: Has Apple come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of sipping rum punch while munching on chicken croquettes, your head wrapped in scarves, in a sultry setting akin to one depicted by West Indian novelist Jean Rhys, make you want to hold Apple’s book in your hands—or are you afraid your palms might burn? Can you almost feel the heat of the fires burning, both outside and in your heart, as you make your way down the streets of Christiansted, lined with Danish buildings?

Assuming that by now you’re burning with curiosity about the history of the Caribbean and the contents of Apple Gidley’s book, I suggest you check out her author site. You can also follow her on Twitter, where she announces her next book readings.

And STAY TUNED for Part Two next week!

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

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Photo credits: Book cover and other photos (supplied).

THE DISPLACED DO-GOODER: Still adjusting to the land of mean mossies, burning bodegas & fab fried foods

Columnist Joanna Sun is back. Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, she spent her college years studying public health in New Zealand. And now she’s displaced again—on a philanthropic mission in the Dominican Republic. This month we have the chance to catch up on her latest linguistic, medical, and foodie exploits. —ML Awanohara

Hello, Displaced Nationers.

Wow, time flies. I’ve already surpassed my six-month mark here in the Dominican Republic. It seems like just a few weeks ago that I arrived, but I’ve already completed half of my year here!

Spanish-level check: it’s still quite terrible but I’m occasionally managing to hold longer conversations. (YES!)

Project progress: I’m still working on improving the nutritional intake of the residents of this orphanage, as reported in my last post, but progress has been slow. There are so few of us volunteers here now. The program has two intakes of volunteers a year: one in January (when I came) and the other in July. Thus when July came around, many volunteers left, leaving the house emptier since the January volunteers have yet to arrive. It feels odd. Once we were 12 but are now down to six!

Dominican mosquitoes are not my friends

Many things have happened since my last post. For a start, I’ve had an agonizing time of it with Dominican mosquitoes. I am always that person who gets bitten the most wherever I may be. Here in the DR, however, oh dear lord, it is out of control! Even when I wear jeans they somehow manage to bite me. Even with repellent, which I swear is so bad for my skin, they bite me. No matter what I do, they bite me! It is not as huge a deal for the other volunteers. Something must be in my blood. I am covered in mosquito bites all over my arms and legs. Several of the bites have gotten inflamed and turned into blisters.

I am a deep, deep sleeper but my bites are so itchy that they actually wake me up. Even now as I work on this column, I have swollen bites all around my ankles that I am really trying hard not to scratch…

And you know what the worst part is—well, apart from the dangers of getting mosquito-borne diseases? Even after the itchiness and swelling goes down, it still leaves a brown mark. My skin discolours and it will stay that way for months until it fades away.

Now, this is not news to me since it happened prior to my DR days. But this time I have discoloration all over me! My legs especially look horrendous, as though I have a skin infection of some sort…

Some people told me that the marks will not go away! I sincerely hope not…fingers crossed for that one.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I recently tried using natural repellent without DEET and then coconut oil with lavender…to no avail.

But the other day I was talking to some of the tias here (which translates to aunty—they are the ones who will sleep at the house with the children and look after them), and they told me to use shampoo. At first I was reluctant: I mean, shampoo? But one day one of the tias saw me getting eaten alive, she gave me a dollop of shampoo to use. I was skeptical, but wow, it actually worked! I still get bites—it’s not a perfect repellent—but out of all the methods I’ve tried, shampoo has been the most effective, which I find amazing. The only down side is that it is sticky and you need to be careful about using it when it rains…as you can imagine the suds it would churn up should your skin come in contact with water.

But I would still like to find a non-chemical option. If someone has suggestions for how to repel mosquitoes without covering myself with DEET, please leave in the comments!

P.s. On a related note, the ants here bite and sting like crazy—I think they’re a type of red fire ants….

Nobody talks about the weather…but me!

The weather has been…interesting. In a previous post I wrote about living in New Zealand. That country is known for its erratic weather patterns: it will be sunny at one point and then all of a sudden start raining. You can never trust the weather forecast, we used to say.

Little did I know it could be worse than that! Here in the DR the weather changes so drastically—like right now it is really sunny. In five minutes I won’t be at all surprised if the weather start raining like there is no tomorrow. This pattern has been getting worse as we approach the rainy season; I am not looking forward. It is hard enough already to bear the heat in this place.

Heat coupled with rain means super humid conditions—and just imagine the amount of mosquitoes! I’m really not looking forward to it at all… Oh, and surprise surprise, my rain jacket/wind breaker ripped the other day…just my luck!

Peanut butter, chocolate & pica pollo: oh my!

Readers, as you know I cannot write a post without mentioning food. At this point I would like to report that I’ve acquired a rather odd taste for peanut butter during my six months here. Now I am not a huge fan of peanuts. I love all other types of nuts (which are expensive here); but peanuts have never really been my thing—let alone peanut butter. Nowadays, however, I have changed. I am eating peanut butter sandwiches with honey, peanut butter on crackers… I am going crazy over peanut butter. I am not sure why…

Speaking of which, in the town nearest here, San Pedro De Macorís, there was a grocery store named Iberia that had these nice chocolates. I loved going there and buying them. Then about two months ago? There was a fire and Iberia burned down… So now I am going to a different grocery store, Jumbo; and they do not carry my chocolate brand!

I have to say, as a person who prides herself on eating healthy on a regular basis, I do not always come across as such. Admittedly, I occasionally indulge in sugary and fried foods… One more delicious fried food I’ve discovered here is pica pollo. They call this desih omida de Chino (Chinese food), which is odd to me because I’m not sure why they would think fried chicken is Chinese food. But it is true that most of the pica pollo stores are owned by Chinese businessmen and they do serve Asian-style fried rice and vegetables. Pica pollo is the go-to food for Dominicans (and myself) because it is everywhere, cheap, and really delicious.

Now to talk more about the better foods I am eating: I am in fruit heaven! Mostly I eat pineapples and mangoes. Wow, they are so sweet and juicy I could live off them! There are also papayas here—but I’m not a huge fan. They also have amazing melon and of course bananas: not even in question! Since they have such extraordinary fruits, the jugo (juice) they make is also top notch, and the smoothies are quite nice also, but I usually will drink jugo naturales since I do not like the milk here and also tell them to take it easy on the sugar, because they will immerse that smoothie with sugar even though the fruits are sweet like no other.

Next I may start talking about the places I have visited here so far, unless you have topics you’d like me to cover. Hope you are all well!

* * *

Thanks, Joanna. You’ve made it sound like it’s never a dull moment in the DR, with volunteers coming and going, rainstorms suddenly arriving, grocery stories burning down, and so much else. I think I can speak for all your fans in saying: we look forward to your next post!

Readers, any thoughts for Joanna, or questions you’d like her to address in future posts? Please let us know in the comments.

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 biweekly posts from The Displaced Nation and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits:
Opening photo, mossie bite photo and food photo supplied. Caribbean beach via Pixabay.

TCK TALENT: In response to “Where are you from?” a few more TCKs wax poetic

Columnist Dounia Bertuccelli is back with a second round of poems composed by Third Culture Kids in answer to that vexed “where are you from?” question.

Hello Displaced Nationers, global nomads, expats, Third Culture Kids and other curious travelers! Since the last time my column appeared, I trust you have moved on from an enjoyable summer (or winter, for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere) to a splendid fall (or spring).

In celebration of the change in seasons, I’d like to present the second post in my series of TCK poetry here at the TCK Talent column. If you missed the first, be sure to check it out here. As I explained then, the poems are the work of a group of 11th and 12th graders at an international school in Malta. Their teacher wanted them to think more deeply about what “home” means for them, given that they are all growing up in more than one country.

Perhaps because I never even lived in the country of my ancestry (Lebanon), I find it endlessly fascinating to read what these young people had to say in response to the fundamental TCK question: where are you from? The older I get, the more I realize that, although there are places I feel more connected to and that hold a big piece of my heart, I’m definitely not “from” any of these places. I don’t belong entirely to any of them.

And by now I’ve also grown used to the bittersweet flavor of living in-between. At the same time, I feel confident that, given the choice, I would do it all over again—because the sweet far outweighs the bitter.

See what you think of the poems below, readers. Are the young writers on the road to the place where I am now: can they taste more sweet than bitter?

* * *

Where I’m From
By Arabella Ovesen

I am from the tall coconut tree
towering over a blue sea
where the Rhum Runner runs
under the midnight sun.
I’m from the yellow, luxurious castle
Azzurra where father taught me to dazzle.

But one day we went up north,
back to the Vikings’ home
where they work back and forth
in a frozen zone.
And that day, I lost my
Spice Ilse throne.

I’m from the pure white snow
of the Northern Pole.
From being surprised;  
At the age of fourteen,
they didn’t want to survive.
I’m from time being slow, dark.
A place where Caribbean purity
lost its innocence,
and left a burnt mark.


Arabella is from Grenada; she has also lived in Malta and Sweden.

Where I’m From
By Clarissa Meyringer

I am from trams
From steel and cement
I am from cold, glistening snow,
It feels like whipped cream.
I am from the towering pines,
giants whose evergreen leaves
were sharp like knives.

I’m from horses of stone
From Fabio and Ben
I’m from the jokers
And the loners
From turning and turmoil
I’m from shadows,
Seen, never heard or spoken of.

I’m from the shallow sea, crystalline.
From the late night snacks
of my grandmother,
The dangerous soccer fan tales of my uncle
I’m from lore and religion, Supernatural;
A friendship with Luci, Castiel and an alliance with Crowley.

On a wall in my room is a drawing
Colors bright
A breathtaking sight
A crayon mess
I am from that place—
Chaotic and free—
Everchanging.

Clarissa is Austrian-Italian; she was living in Malta at the time of writing.

Where I’m From
By Gianluca Chincoli

I’m from the mixed sounds of farm animals
The mud, those painful marble stairs, and a giant old farmhouse.
I am from fresh air and immense woods
Extending in all directions like a green ocean.

I’m from those two spiteful creatures
That made my life a horror and a fight since the beginning.
I am from big toothless smiles to every stranger
And all those cheeky jokes we crew of three planned every day.

I’m from the wind of the night and the day,
Warm and cold, strong and weak like a zephyr.
On those plastic crafts with sails it was always a tough adventure
But the prizes were always priceless.

I’m from the screamings of my father
New experiences, like no one else in the world.
I am from the orange porch of golden sunsets,
Where the wolf was acting drama in front of the innocent children.

From Italy, Gianluca has been living in Malta.

* * *

We love to hear from our readers, so please leave any thoughts, questions, suggestions, and yes, poetry in the comments!

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; and is a freelance writer and editor. 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.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

Related posts:

Photo credits:
All photos from Pixabay except:
– Photo of Rum Runner boat in Grenada: 1252 Rhum Runner II in Grenada (19), by Mark Morgan via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
– Photo of Italian football fans: AC Mailand – VfL Wolfsburg (2:2), by funky1opti via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
– NOTE: The final photo (from Pixabay) is of a hiking path in the Garda Mountains, in northern Italy.

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD: Ruth Van Reken’s creative life as Adult Third Culture Kid


Columnist Doreen Brett is back, and she’s accompanied by someone whose “homes” have ranged from Africa to the American Midwest, and who knows better than any of us here what it means to feel culturally displaced. Hm, who else could it be other than the indomitable Ruth Van Reken? —ML Awanohara

Hello Displaced Nationers! It is my pleasure to present to you Ruth Van Reken, an expert in cross-cultural identity and globally mobile families. She is renowned internationally for her compassion, knowledge and insight into what it means to be a child growing up among worlds, otherwise known as a Third Culture Kid.

An American, Ruth was born in Kano, Nigeria, to missionary parents. Although her mom was raised in Chicago, being a TCK is a tradition on the paternal side of her family: her father, too, was a TCK (he was born in Rasht, Iran, then known as Persia, where his parents lived). It’s a tradition Ruth has continued: both her children and first grandchild are TCKs.

Among her many accomplishments, Ruth is co-founder and past chairperson of Families in Global Transition (FIGT), a forum for globally mobile individuals, families, and those working with them, the signature event being an annual conference. She is also the co-author, with David Pollock, of the now-classic Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, soon to be out in its third edition.

Ruth often speaks about issues related to the global lifestyle and has developed the website Cross Cultural Kids as a hub for children of refugees, immigrants, minorities, career expatriates, mixed race, and bicultural families. The way she sees it, not just TCKs but all children who have experienced a globalized upbringing or some form of displacement from their parents’ home/culture are forming a “new normal” in today’s globalizing world.

Now let’s hear about Ruth’s own experiences of living in various locations abroad—and how those locations have fed her creative life.

* * *

Ruth, I understand you’ve just celebrated your 72nd birthday. Happy birthday! And welcome to the Displaced Nation. As I mentioned just now, you were born and grew up in Nigeria. What I didn’t mention is that you lived in Liberia and Kenya as an adult, with your husband and family. How did you come to spend so much of your life in Africa?

Spending 13 years of my childhood in Nigeria was the result of my parents deciding to accept a teaching job in that country. Later, when I got married, my husband and I chose to live and work in Liberia—he as a pediatrician, and me as a nurse. It didn’t go quite to plan. I didn’t end up doing nursing because they were trying to use Liberians for nursing, and we couldn’t get visas to visit my parents in Nigeria even though I had grown up there and loved the country. It was postwar, and all the Nigerians cared about is that I had an American passport. When I finally got to visit my parents, it was a journey of clarification for me. Nigeria wasn’t my world. There had been big changes politically. There were soldiers in the airport. I still really loved the country but could see it wasn’t mine. Later we moved to Kenya.

Would you say it’s normal to live in this way?

For some of us, for whom the seeds are planted early, it’s normal to live like this. Some may think that it’s radical, or how would you dare. But for me it’s the way life is, and it’s good. My hardest move was from Kenya to my current home of Indianapolis, when I thought my travels are over! I’ve come to enjoy where I live right now, but at the time, I thought the international lifestyle was missing. Everybody’s lived here forever and is the same.

How did you keep from feeling isolated through your many moves?

Feeling isolated? I’m an EE (Extreme Extrovert)! There are always people, as long as you don’t demand that they have to be just like you. My hobby is that I like to talk, and I also like to go out, even if it’s to shop for groceries in a little mud hut someplace. So I never felt isolated. Africa is a very social environment. It’s warm all year. In Kenya I joined an International Women’s Club. We had a group of 17 women of 14 different nationalities meeting together every week.

Many of us expats or people who’ve grown up as Third Culture Kids gravitate towards global cities as that’s where we think we’ll find work and our “tribe.” Has that been your experience?

Chicago is quite a global city now, but it was very different when I first moved back home, pre-immigration days. My family lived in a neighborhood where everyone was segregated into traditional communities. That’s why, when I came back as a 13-year-old, everybody was from there and white, and although I looked like I should fit, I didn’t. That was a bad year for me. After one year, I did the chameleon thing and pretended to blend in. I would not tell anyone I was from Africa.

What about when you moved your own family back to the United States?

When my husband and I moved back to Indianapolis, we chose the suburbs as we were specifically looking at schools for the kids. I saw one school and thought, “Everyone looks the same. My kids won’t fit in here.” We found a school where the kids had many looks—a school with multi-nationalities and multi-backgrounds. I felt our kids are going to fit in here better, they have more space to be themselves. You know, somebody here once said: “You think you know everything and you’re so proud because you’ve been everywhere.” I was shocked and horrified. I told her:

“If I just try to be the suburban housewife, then I have a place. But if I ever let you know who I am, then I have no place.”

How did your life in Kenya compare to this?

Kenya was easier for me. When we were sitting with the other expats, we would often be talking about who we are and where they’ve been. That conversation was acceptable for that group. I realized that I don’t understand my neighbor’s job in tech, and he doesn’t understand mine, but we can be great friends on a million other subjects. You can make a bridge of the human story. The more stories we share, the more we connect in those spaces of humanity. In time, I found my space.

I know from reading your books that you think TCKs have special gifts.

I think the biggest gift of being a TCK is that I can connect, and I am sure you do too, to the humanity in people who don’t look like me, and who are from different backgrounds. We can connect with different cultures in some ways. We understand how much the human heart wants to belong.

Can you give us a concrete illustration of a work of yours that was nurtured out of the places you have lived in?

Although my parents were teachers for local schools, they sent me to an international boarding school when I was six years old, as was the norm, so I would learn American history and culture and be prepared for repatriation. I was there for three years, and after that I spent a year in the United States with my gran. Finally, my mother asked if I would like to be home schooled, so from fourth grade onwards, she taught me lessons in her classrooms in the Nigerian schools. I was able to connect to my family, I had Nigerian friends, I learnt the language and played games with them. Years later, when my husband and I had been in Liberia for some time, my daughter wanted to go to boarding school because all her friends were going there. I got depressed, with unresolved grief from my childhood. That was a discovery for me, of the impact of transition on my life. I started writing letters to my parents as if I were six years old again. These then became my memoir, Letters I Never Sent: A Global Nomad’s Journey from Hurt to Healing. Here’s an excerpt:

May 1958. “Today we’re leaving Africa… It’s unbearable to think that I may never again see my home or closest friends or the country that I love so much. It’s sort of like a death—to lose your whole world in one moment.”

Readers responded that they’d felt this way too. This was when I first heard of “TCK”. My first book wasn’t a conscious choice. My second book, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, which I co-wrote with David Pollock, was bigger than me and my story. I traveled to 50 different countries for the TCK work.

And let me tell you about my home here in Indianapolis. When I first arrived, my life in boxes, I put up some African things on the walls. My daughter’s friend took it all down, and said you’re in America now. But my bookcase still has musical instruments from all around the world. Every culture makes music through four ways—percussion, string, wind, and brass. These are the same four ways to make music all over the world. This display, too, is a creative expression of my life.

You still live in Indianapolis. Does that city feed your creativity as well?

With immigration, I realized the world was coming to Indianapolis, but people here weren’t attuned to it (for example, in human resources and schools). I started seminars here, and with the help of some friends with organizational skills, my efforts grew into Families in Global Transitions (FIGT).

What’s next for you, travel-wise and creativity-wise: will you stay put where you are or are other cities/artistic activities on your horizon?

On September 8th, we will be releasing the third edition of Third Culture Kids, with more stories and more diversity of TCKs. My interest is in the innumerable ways people are growing up cross-culturally now. I think a lot of Cross-Cultural Kids (CCKs) feel lost and aren’t feeling internally where they belong. Human beings need a place to fit, we need to find new ways to name identity so people can belong in positive ways. They should be able to say: Given the reality of my life, I can accept where I’ve come from instead of trying to fix what’s different about me.

Do you have any parting advice for your fellow ATCKs?

Come for the next Families in Global Transitions (FIGT). I think we find our tribe there. You don’t have to explain yourselves to the group. And whatever project you’re working on, that book, that website, there’s an empowerment to go back and continue and finish the writing, finish the project.

Ruth, your story resonates with me in so many ways! Thank you for sharing it.

* * *

Readers, any further questions for the amazing Ruth Van Reken on her thoughts about place, displacement, and the connection between the communities you’ve lived in and creativity? Any authors or other international creatives you’d like to see Doreen interview in future posts? Please leave your suggestions in the comments.

STAY TUNED for this coming week’s fab posts.

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

Related posts:

Photo credits:
Opening collage: 245 Kano City Nigeria 1995, by David Holt via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Chicago Skyline from Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois, by Ken Lund via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Waterside Stores (Monrovia, Liberia), by Mark Fischer via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); 774 Redbud Lane (Greenwood, Indiana), by Bart Everson via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); photo of Kenya via Pixabay and photo of Ruth supplied.

Photo of girl via Pixabay.

Book covers supplied.

THE DISPLACED DO-GOODER: Is the Dominican Republic ready for the Korean answer to Jamie Oliver?

Columnist Joanna Sun is back. Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, she spent her college years studying public health in New Zealand. And now she’s displaced again—on a philanthropic mission in the Dominican Republic. This month we have the chance to catch up on her latest linguistic and culinary exploits. —ML Awanohara

Hello, Displaced Nationers.

In my last post, I talked about how I came to live in New Zealand, which in so many ways was nearly opposite to my home country of Korea.

Now let’s turn back to the present, to my vibrant life in the Dominican Republic. I’m five months in…and counting.

The good news is, I’ve been a bit busier of late, having kind of (?) adjusted to my new conditions. I mean, I still feel homesick and miss my family and friends, but because I’m keeping myself occupied, my mind doesn’t wander elsewhere so much. The old adage “Work hard, play hard” seems to be true: it keeps you from focusing on your problems.

Hm, what kind of Spanish am I learning?

As those who read my first post will know, I’m working as a clinical assistant in an orphanage called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (which literally translates as “Our Little Brothers and Sisters”), in the southeastern part of DR. Sometimes I have a huge amount of work to do, but other times it is quiet and, honestly speaking, I get bored.

Whenever boredom comes creeping in, I take the opportunity to practice my Spanish with the doctor, who in turn tries to pick up some English words from me here and there.

But the thing is, the Spanish I’m learning is Dominican Spanish. They have their own distinct style of speaking, their accent differs and THEY DON’T PRONOUNCE THEIR S’s!

So, for example, they use the word fresca to describe children who are acting a bit cheeky and have an attitude. Recently I learned that in other Spanish-speaking nations, this word more often means “fresh” or “cool”.

Anyway, for the longest time I thought people were saying “freca,” just because they never pronounce the “s”. Hm, why bother having an “s” if you can’t be bothered pronouncing it? Actually, I only learnt yesterday that the word is actually fresca.

Even in the case of popular names, they do not pronounce ”s”; for instance, the name Crismeily, which is quite a common here, is pronounced “Crimeily”!

On top of this, there are also regional pronunciation differences. The doctor I’ve been conversing with has a regional accent, for instance. I cannot quite put my finger on how it is different from most of the Spanish around me, but it is definitely different. Like most people when learning a new language, I find listening much easier than speaking. I can understand a bit of Spanish now but still struggle to formulate my own sentences.

Not so glorious food!

Given that I studied the health sciences, it is perhaps not surprising that I’ve taken on an extracurricular project: I want to see if I can help change the dietary habits of the orphanage children and staff.

I became concerned upon realizing that the average height of kids is lower compared to other Caribbean nations and that the Dominicans have a significantly shorter life expectancy. Many suffer from hypertension and diabetes from an early age—problems that can be traced to diet.

I soon noticed that the proportions of the various food groups are completely off here. In the DR, they tend to limit vegetables and fruits in favor of carbohydrates: namely, rice and beans. No one seems to have heard that you should limit carbohydrates and eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Protein intake, too, isn’t what it should be.

(That said, the children living in this orphanage have it better than the kids who who are living off sugar canes or solely on rice and beans.)

And did I mention their love for fried foods? Don’t get me wrong, I love fried foods, too, and have been gorging at the empanadas, plátanos fritos (fried plantains) and even fried yuka (the edible root of the cassava plant). But really, these foods haven’t been good for my waist and neither are they good for anyone else in this place.

Before I got here, another volunteer, who is in his second year, started a project on improving nutrition. He has asked me to help him out. Hopefully I will get the ball rolling soon and can implement my ideas for new dietary programmes.

Tell me, have I bitten off more than I can chew?

Adding protein and a smoothie to a traditional DR meal

Bring on the cake!

But before I go, allow me a moment to brag about a food-related accomplishment I baked my very first cake! Yes, you heard that right. It took reaching the ripe old age of 22 and coming all the way to the Dominican Republic for me to bake a cake.

Now listen, I love cooking, but baking has never been my thing! I tried baking brownies and cookies in the past—and they were not something you would want to eat.

The problem is, I don’t like following exact measurements. With cooking you can estimate, you can add more things, and be creative with spices and ingredients. But baking requires an appreciation for science and a willingness to be exact. No wonder I screw up every time I attempt to bake something.

But as a volunteer, I am obliged to celebrate birthdays with the kids in my house—and the birthday of one of my kids was coming up at the end of last month. So it’s good I gave it a go and didn’t fail miserably.

Okay, doesn’t look like the most amazing cake on the earth, but it was quite nice…

* * *

Thanks, Joanna! That cake looks yummy! And having written about Jamie Oliver in the early days of the Displaced Nation, I recognize the syndrome. Since repatriating from Tokyo to New York, I keep wanting to rewrite the diets of people here in the United States to be more Japanese: smaller portions, more variety. Good luck with your project!

Readers, any thoughts for Joanna, or questions you’d like her to address in future posts? Please let us know in the comments.

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 biweekly posts from The Displaced Nation and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits:
Opening photo and two food photos were supplied.
Español, by Daniel Lobo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

TCK TALENT: The best answer to that pesky “where are you from?” question? A poem!

Columnist Dounia Bertuccelli joins us again—and has something new and exciting in store.

Welcome readers! Today we’re starting something new at the TCK Talent Column—a series of poems from TCKs on where they’re “from”.

If you’re a TCK, global nomad or otherwise displaced individual, you will probably appreciate the complexity of emotions raised when you’re being asked a seemingly simple question like: Where are you from? Where is home?

Spread over several posts, we’ll share the work of these TCKs along with some details on where they’re “from” originally and where they’ve lived.

The poems were part of a project and the students’ teacher is the best person to explain how this theme came up and how they tackled it:

“I teach in an International IB school in Malta, and I have 11th and 12th graders who come from all over the world. Last year I started doing a unit on cultural diversity and I connected it to the idea of being a Third Culture Kid.

As Third Culture Kids, we hear ‘Where is your home?’ a lot. It has always been difficult to answer completely, but we wanted to give it a try. While thinking about how to tackle this identity question, we looked at George Ella Lyon’s unique poem “Where I’m From”. In it, home is not connected to one place. Rather, it is connected to all the diverse images, phrases, memories, neighborhood characters, tastes, scents, sounds, and sensations that make up a reflective person’s foundation and sense of self; and this seemed a fitting way to describe our concept of home as well.”

A couple of years ago, I composed my own “where is home” poem, following a prompt on a friend’s blog. It was a fascinating exercise, coming up with the words to express the combination of places, people, sights and smells that make up who I am.

Where I’m From
By Dounia Bertuccelli

I’m from the warm Mediterranean Sea,
And the smell of fresh pines in the mountain.

I’m from lavender fields and vineyards,
And the ochre colored house.

I’m from bahebak, je t’aime,
I love you, te quiero and ti amo.

I’m from islands and continents,
From north to south and east to west.

I’m from all these places that hold my heart,
And from a home that’s rooted in love.

Truth be told, it’s tough to cover everything in a single poem, but at least we can provide a glimpse into the beautiful complexity that makes up the Third Culture Kid life. We are the sum of our experiences, of all our homes, of the blood that runs through our veins, of the people we met throughout our journey, of the foods we tasted, of the smells we breathed in, of the languages we spoke and heard…

All of these make us who we are and tell the story of where we’re truly from.

And now let’s find out how a couple of the TCKs in the Malta class answered this question.

Where I’m From
By Allesia Falcomata

I am from the best cuisine
in a small city of pasta.
I am from fashion shops
and the coffee everyone loves the best.

I am from the south
with hot weather
and the beautiful sea.

I am from the sunset,
when the city lights come on.
I am from November,
‘the cold month’.

I am from tons of pictures,
because the best moments they must be captured.
I am from the black and the white,
and the mystery photo too.

I am also from red,
the warm color.
And from the dreams of
Eiffel Tower love.

From Italy, Allesia was living in Malta at the time of writing.

Where I’m From
By Andy Qiu

I am from the twitter
at five everyday
pushing me to wake up.

I am from the stream
flowing around the mountain
and the sun
lighting up the atmosphere

I am from the golden field,
fragrant with growing rice,
where I spent most of my childhood.
I am from children salivating over
the sausage and ham
hanging on the wooden stick

I am from the town
where everyone provides sincere help.
From the yearly reunion dinner
which includes all the village.

I am from the desire
for a peaceful atmosphere
where it still exists.

Andy (Yuqin) has lived in Malta, China and Costa Rica.

* * *

Readers, I hope you enjoyed this first poetry sampler. And if you’ve written your own version of “where I’m from,” we’d love to have you share it with us in the comments.

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; and is a freelance writer and editor. 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.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

Related posts:

Photo credits:
All photos from Pixabay.

THE DISPLACED DO-GOODER: My third-culture-kid years in the land of kiwis, hobbits & jandals

New columnist Joanna Sun is back. Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, she spent her college years studying public health in New Zealand. And now she’s displaced again—on a philanthropic mission in the Dominican Republic. This month she shares with us what it was like to live as a Third Culture Kid in Auckland. —ML Awanohara

Hello, Displaced Nationers.

As I explained in my last post, the Dominican Republic is not my first experience of living abroad. The first time I ventured overseas was to New Zealand, for education.

As I’m sure you know, most Asian countries put a strong emphasis on education and academic excellence. When I was growing up there was a boom in teaching children English to children in Korea. (It’s an even bigger trend now.)

I think that was why, when my aunty emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand, my parents thought it would be a good idea for me to join her for a few months. Initially, it was a short-term plan: I would stay with my aunty for around a year or so to pick up English. But then I ended up falling in love with the country and decided to stay for much longer. I attended, and then graduated from, the University of Auckland, with a degree in public health.

When my parents first approached me about going to NZ, I was 10 and didn’t have a clear picture of what I was really getting into. Mainly I was intrigued by the idea of going on a plane. As explained in my last post, I always get nauseous on planes, but this first time I was too excited to care.

Knowing what I know now, I wonder why I wasn’t more terrified of going into a country with another language and culture. I guess that is just a part of my personality because I was excited above all—and didn’t even care that I wouldn’t see my parents for a few months (sorry, mum and dad, love you!).

Looking back, I also don’t recall what it was about NZ that impressed my youthful mind so much. It might have been the amazing beaches everywhere you turn or just the tranquil and peaceful vibe that Kiwis give off. Whatever it was, I fell madly in love with NZ and still feel passionate about that part of the world. If I was given another opportunity to choose between NZ and Korea, I would choose NZ all over again.

What I missed about Korea: The food!

This is not to say I don’t love my native Korea. I do! Like any other person on earth, I am not happy with every single aspect of home. For instance, Koreans put too much focus on academic excellence, leaving little room for creativity.

But I love lots of things about Korean culture—especially the food. If you’re not familiar with Korean cuisine, can I urge you to go and try:
● Korean fried chicken;
Bulgogi (marinated beef; 불고기); and
Soondae (순대), which is similar to a blood sausage, with tteok-bokki (떡볶기), or fried Korean rice cake, in a spicy sauce.

If anyone visits Korea any time soon, eat for me so I can live vicariously, because it has been five months since I ate decent Korean food. As you can imagine in a place like the Dominican Republic, where all Asians are referred to as Chinos (see my last post), you don’t see very many Korean restaurants. (That said, I have found two Korean restaurants in the DR, but I’ll save for a later account.)

Ah, also, should you ever get a chance to visit Korea, there is no need for a car—because the public transport system, especially in Seoul, is amazing. You get on the subway and it connects to everywhere you might want to go. The system never ceases to amaze me. Subways are punctual, cheap and easy to use. Even if you get lost there is an identical loop that will take you back to where you got on, so there is no need to panic. (Though I would not recommend using it in rush hour…)

Novelties and culture shocks aplenty

Getting back to NZ: it was my first time to be surrounded by mostly Caucasian, English-speaking people. Sure, I had seen foreign people on TV and all, but there were very few living in Korea, even in Seoul, where I grew up.

(Nowadays it is different. I am surprised to see more and more foreigners in Korea every time I visit. If you go to Korea now, you will find a place in Seoul called Itaewon (이태원), which is basically a foreigner’s town. They have lots of restaurants, entertainment and shops that are targeted at tourists.)

It was also my first experience of diversity. Compared to NZ, Korea is much more homogeneous, with a single race and culture. I understood the concept of a melting pot, where all the cultures are expected to blend with each other, but I noticed there were people who seemed opposed to that idea. I never quite understood how it works. Like everything else, diversity has its positives and its negatives, I guess.

Similar to other first-timers in NZ, my most memorable experiences include:
● Watching the haka, the traditional war dance of the Māori.
● Tasting pavlova—let’s not even get into the argument of whether it is from Aussies or Kiwis; nonetheless it was my first time trying this marvelous dessert.
● Gorging on kiwi fruit.
● Seeing a kiwi bird for the first time (the national symbol of NZ, from which the nickname comes).
● Picking up Kiwi slang that I use to this day in the DR (English speakers from other parts of the world haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about): e.g., togs (swimsuits) and jandals (flip flops/thongs).

Back when I first arrived in NZ, the Korean community was relatively small, which probably helped me learn English quickly, because in around a year I was reasonably fluent. Of course, it took much longer to become fully proficient.

I am seeing the same pattern here in the DR. Not many people speak English, and even when they do it is very basic. So I am hoping this will help me to pick up Spanish faster.

Impressions of the South Island

Moving on, I am assuming you have heard that NZ is the place that brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s landscapes to life. That was thanks to New Zealand-born filmmaker Peter Jackson, who opted to film The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy entirely in his native land, taking advantage of the astonishing terrains on both North and South Islands.

NZ’s South Island is, of course, very different, from the North Island, starting with the climate. It snows in the South Island in winters but not in the North, where the lakes keep temperatures warmer.

I visited the South Island only once during my stay: venturing to Queenstown, a resort town in the southwestern part of the island. I did all the things a tourist would do, including skiing, visiting Ferg Burger (which, by the way, is amazing: they make burgers the size of your face; I really think they should bring it up to the North, too) and going on the luge ride.

I did not, however, try out bungee jumping… I am terrified of heights. As even going up there gives me the creeps, I feared I might have a heart attack once I started free falling.

Ah, and one last thing: there’s a cookie bar in Queenstown! It serves hot cookies and there’s warm milk on tap at the “bar”. Since I do not enjoy drinking all that much, I was in my element here: lots of chocolate, sugar and warm milk.

Writing this post about my first displacement makes me realize how grateful I am to my parents for allowing me to see the world from a different lens and experience another culture, at such a young age. I also want to thank my lovely aunty, who sacrificed so much to look after me, and put up with my rebellious teenage years.

At some point in the future, I might write about how being displaced in NZ affected my feelings about Korea (and even the Dominican Republic): it’s really been an interesting dynamic.

* * *

Thanks, Joanna! I love the way you’ve managed to recapture your first impressions of New Zealand as a Korean youth. Those burgers and that cookie bar sound amazing! And I don’t blame you for giving bungee jumping a miss: it shows me you are sensible!

Readers, any thoughts for Joanna, or questions you’d like her to address in future posts? Please let us know in the comments.

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 biweekly posts from The Displaced Nation and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits:
Opening photo, Korean food photo, and photos of NZ and DR beaches were supplied.
North Island collage: All photos from Pixabay except for: [Street scene in Auckland], by Naoki Sato via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and [jandals], by jase via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
South Island collage: Photos from Pixabay except for the two food ones: Ferg Loves You, by Nogwater via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and FB photo by Cookie Tie Cookie Bar Queenstown.

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD: Doreen Brett’s creative life as an expat in Holland


At a moment when I feel far from the madding crowd myself despite being in a big city—it’s Memorial Day weekend in the United States, when most New Yorkers flock to the beach—it’s my pleasure to welcome new columnist Doreen Brett to the Displaced Nation. She was introduced to me by former Culture Shock Toolbox columnist Hélène (“H.E.”) Rybol: they met in Singapore, where they were roommates for a while.

Like Hélène, Doreen grew up among several different cultures. Her grandparents emigrated from India to Malaysia, and the family spoke English as their first language. While based in Malaysia, she attended school in Singapore.

Doreen’s horizons widened still more once she reached adulthood. A few years ago, she moved to the UK with her British husband; they now make their home in the Netherlands.

Doreen loves exploring wild, remote places—and it’s this passion of hers that has inspired her column, “Far from the Madding Crowd.” From next month, she will be interviewing expats who have chosen to live in some off-the-beaten-track locations. Did the experience lead to cultural immersion, and in what ways did it foster creativity?

To kick off the series, Doreen has agreed to have me pose to her the same series of questions she plans to ask other international creatives.

* * *

Welcome, Doreen, to the Displaced Nation! I understand you grew up in Malaysia but were educated in Singapore. How did that come about?

I was born in Johor, the Malaysian state on the Straights of Johor, which separates Malaysia from the Republic of Singapore. When I was six years old, my parents decided to send me to school in Singapore, since my family was English speaking and schools in Malaysia tend to teach only in Malay. My parents were influenced by a neighbor of ours, a close family friend, who was the principal of a school in Singapore. She spoke very highly of the city-state’s educational system. In any event, that’s how I came to living in one country while attending school in another! Every morning I would wake up at 5:00 a.m., sit sleepily on a yellow school bus and travel across customs. Once school finished, I would make my way home again, through immigration checks. As a child, it became second nature for me to keep my passport in my pocket, for daily use. It marked the beginning of what has thus far been a life of travel.

What brought you to your current location, the Netherlands?

My husband is British. We moved from Singapore to his native UK to live and work. We lived in his home town, Billericay (a small town in Essex, not far from London), for a few years before moving to London to avoid the commute to work. We only recently moved to a small city in the Netherlands, again for work.

Those of us who have been Third Culture Kids or repeat expats tend to gravitate towards global cities as that’s where we think we’ll find work and our “tribe.” How did you find life in Singapore as compared to in Malaysia?

When I think of Malaysia, there is very much a community feel to the place and the people. You always know your neighbors; family and friends drop by without any notice (and are readily welcomed with a snack–every house always has snacks prepared for impromptu visits); and weddings are celebrated on a large scale–500 people is a small number. In fact, the further you get from the city, the more of a village feel there is and the more you will experience these community bonds. Rather than finding your “tribe”, the tribe will find you and welcome you with open arms! Singapore, by contrast, is very much a global city, with all the conveniences such places have to offer, including a vast variety of food choices available day and night, efficient and safe transport links, and of course, a plethora of cultures living in one space.

Once you moved to the UK, you went from living in a small town to living in London. Which did you prefer?

To be honest, coming from a background that values community, I felt alienated in both locations. If only I had known about the Displaced Nation then, I would have realized there was nothing unusual in my reluctance to head out into what I perceived was an unfriendly environment. Even when I moved to London, a place where virtually everyone is “displaced”—it is very much a global city—I still felt this disconnect. Being in a global city does not guarantee a sense of companionship and belonging. You can be in a room full of people and still feel alone. It was only when I took steps to reach out, and get past cultural differences, that I began to find people I could connect with. And while city life is of course convenient, and there are always things to do, I found that I never got any space to myself, to just BE.

How do you feel about your latest “home”?

Where I live in the Netherlands is much quieter than the flat we had in London. It’s a complete switch in lifestyle. Like a detox of sorts. I absolutely love it. All in all I have to say that I love being outside of global cities. On the surface, cities have more people and hence provide more opportunities to connect with others; but I think that relationships forged in communities outside the city limits will trump this any day.

How do you keep from feeling isolated?

I do not feel isolated, no matter where in the world I am. I always have a small, steady group of friends and family I can turn to—my global tribe.

I understand you enjoy writing. Do you foresee that in your current location you’ll be able to nurture your creativity?

Being in the Netherlands gives me time to pursue my creative interests and the opportunity to develop my writing. Currently I am working on writing a fictional piece, and of course my protagonist travels, and I am embellishing the tale with the flavours of the different cultures I have experienced.

What’s next for you, travel-wise and creativity-wise: will you stay put where you are or are other cities/artistic activities on your horizon?

I’ve only just moved to the Netherlands, so I would like to stay put for a bit. Fingers crossed that this move goes well!

Thank you, Doreen!

* * *

Readers, any further questions for Doreen on her thoughts about place, displacement, and the connection between the community you live in and creativity? Any authors or other international creatives you’d like to see her interview in future posts? Please leave your suggestions in the comments.

STAY TUNED for this coming week’s fab posts.

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

Photo credits:
Opening collage (bottom to top): Sultan Ibrahim Building, Johor, Malaysia, by Bernard Spragg via Flickr (CC0 1.0); Singapore, by Neils de Vries via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Bellericay High Street, by Steve Hancocks via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Picadilly Circus, by mrgarethm via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Doreen Brett feeling happily displaced in Holland as the sun is shining (supplied). Sea image is from Pixabay.
2nd visual: Madi + Pika // Reception, by Azlan DuPree via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
3rd visual: Oxford Street in London via Pixabay.

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