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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.

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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).

Thanksgiving, the ultimate holiday of the displaced—and still going strong

The Displaced Nation feels a special kinship to Thanksgiving. It strikes us as being, when all is said and done, the holiday of the displaced.

Quite a lot is being said about Thanksgiving these days. But before we get into that (actually, we may not have much time to get into it), let’s quickly review what we know to be true about the holiday’s origins:

  • The Pilgrims sailed to North America from Plymouth, England, on the Mayflower in 1620, disembarking at what is now known as Plymouth, Massachusetts.
  • A year later, in 1621, they celebrated a successful harvest with a three-day gathering that was attended by members of the Wampanoag tribe.

What we haven’t been able to establish, however, is how both Native Americans and settlers came to be at the same feast. Did the Pilgrims invite the Wambanoah out of gratitude for their assistance in planting corn and showing them where to fish? We simply don’t know. What we do know, of course, is that the Native Americans were eventually displaced from their lands.

It is hardly surprising, then, that some now see Thanksgiving as a story of a displaced people thanking the about-to-be displaced natives.

Hmmm… Does that story make the United States the closest thing the world has to a Displaced Nation?

But I digress. Returning to the topic at hand: no matter how you slice or dice it (hm, an appropriate Thanksgiving metaphor?), Thanksgiving remains a tradition of a shared harvest feast, one that started up in North America (yes, the Canadians celebrate it, too) around four centuries ago and is still going strong today. In fact, many of us continue to add layers of displacement to our Thanksgiving meals, as the following round-up of food-oriented posts will attest.

No longer exclusively a North American holiday

As Fodor’s Travel points out in a recent post, you can now have your turkey (with all the trimmings) in…Turkey! Also in France, Argentina, Australia, China…

Of the menus described in the Fodors post, I would pick the one offered by the Restaurant at Brown’s, in London. Admittedly, I’m biased because of having lived in England for quite a few years (my first displacement). How I wish I’d been able to have Thanksgiving in a restaurant then!

England may not be known for its food, but something the English do superbly well are desserts, aka puddings. And for dessert on its special Thanksgiving menu, Restaurant at Brown’s offers pumpkin and Peruvian gold chocolate pie. Sounds scrummy.

Something else the Brits do well are vegetarian dishes. Now I’m not a vegetarian, but I almost became one during my expat years because Brits are so creative with veggies.

Were I to indulge in the Thanksgiving meal at the Restaurant at Brown’s, I might be tempted to order the Montgomery’s cheddar pie instead of turkey. One reason is that I’m not a great fan of roast turkey. Another is that I’m tempted to eat cheddar any time I’m in the Birthplace of Cheddar Cheese, it being one of my all-time favorites (apologies to France).

The traditional menu keeps being tweaked

But we don’t have to travel all the way across the pond, let alone to China or Australia, to find updates on the traditional Thanksgiving menu. New immigrants to the United States are constantly re-interpreting traditional Thanksgiving ingredients—I have to assume because many of them, like me, are not great fans of roast turkey.

Take, for example, food blogger Eugenia George, a Salvadorian married to an American and living in Southern California. “No one else does turkey like we do,” she declares in her post Salvadorian Holiday Turkey. She uses her mother’s recipe, which involves roasting and then braising the turkey in a tomato-based sauce that’s packed with flavor and spices. “Dry turkey? Nope. Not this one,” she writes.” It’s juicy, succulent, and the meat just falls off the bones.”

Another good example is scifi and fantasy writer Brenda Clough, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant to the United States and a Third Culture Kid (she spent much of her childhood overseas). Like George, she credits her mother with making Thanksgiving more delicious. She says her mother figured out how to make the Thanksgiving turkey Chinese by stuffing it with sweet, glutinous Japanese short-grain rice that had been combined with shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp, onion, celery, water chestnuts and dried Chinese sausage. Even though the family is now spread across the country, Clough, who lives in the D.C. area, says that every one of their Thanksgiving tables will feature some version of this sticky-rice stuffing (recipe here).

It is frequently said that the best part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers—and for those of us who’ve lived or traveled abroad for significant periods, the morning after Thanksgiving has become an occasion to innovate. Not your plain old turkey sandwiches for us!

Some years ago on the Displaced Nation, I reported I’d created a dish for turkey leftovers: chirashi-turkey-zushi, inspired by my second displacement (in Tokyo). Basically you substitute turkey pieces for the raw fish.

This year I noticed that Stephanie of i am a food blog provides a recipe for turkey curry udon, which, in addition to providing a quick and satisfying way to use turkey leftovers is also “guaranteed to take you straight into the streets of Tokyo, at least in your mind,” she writes.

The story itself keeps getting rewritten

Just as fairy tales need updating for a new generation, so too does the Thanksgiving story.

New York-based writer Robert Sullivan recently produced a piece for Vogue on a group of six indigenous chefs, members of tribes from around North America. They met together in New York for the first time during Thanksgiving week to launch a new indigenous activist group, called the I-Collective, a kind of platform to showcase Native American food. On Thanksgiving evening itself, they hosted a dinner with some of their dishes. In effect, Sullivan says, they were rewriting Thanksgiving history.

They weren’t the only professional cooks doing something creative. Chef José Andrés, a displaced Spaniard (he recently became an American citizen), spent the weeks before Thanksgiving mobilizing a massive team of chefs and volunteers in Puerto Rico to produce 30,000+ Thanksgiving meals—”what may be the island’s biggest-ever Thanksgiving dinner”—for those displaced by Hurricane Maria.

Thanksgiving, after all, should belong to the chefs—and the fact that some of them are joining the national conversation about the meaning of this holiday of the displaced, bodes well for its future. While there will always be those of us—for instance, the Vietnamese American novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen—with misgivings about celebrating displacement, maybe the best, the only(?) solution is simply to make the party bigger?

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, often composes pieces of this kind for the biweekly Displaced Dispatch. In fact she will be doing something on a related theme for the upcoming issue. Why not subscribe and brighten up your global creative life every couple of weeks?

Photo credit: Thanksgiving postcard via Pixabay.

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 much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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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.

DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: A summer of unwinding, recharging & charging ahead

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young has been updating us on her quest to become a full-time writer since her first post in October 2014, nearly three years ago. As her summer 2017 update shows, she’s come a very long way!

Dear Displaced Diary,

It’s a bright, sunny day in Hong Kong, and summer is in full swing. This is the time of year when even the tourists are hesitant to go out and brave the muggy weather here in the sub-tropics. I’m already back at work in my usual Starbucks after my own summer travels.

Since my last update in the spring, I’ve been busy finishing the fifth and final book in my young adult fantasy adventure series, Steel & Fire. Night of Flame launched on May 20th, wrapping up my second major series under my Jordan Rivet pen name. (The first is the Seabound trilogy.)

I think it’s safe to say that the Jordan Rivet name is here to stay.

The end of May also marked the first full year in which my writing income matched or exceeded what I earned in my previous day job.

It seemed like a good time to go on holiday!

JUNE: Something of a writing break

In June, I spent four weeks with my family in Arizona. My fellow members of the Displaced Nation know what this entails: catching up on a year’s worth of quality time, eating at all your favorite places, and noticing all your home country’s idiosyncrasies.

One thing that always surprises me when I go home is the sheer number of choices in the grocery stores. You can buy anything you want in Hong Kong, but in the United States there seem to be infinite variations of each thing. (For example: I counted eleven different types of M&Ms in a single convenience store.) I also notice how much strangers make small talk. There’s usually an adjustment period where I stare blankly at cashiers who ask about my day. I can no longer tell how much people actually want to know when they strike up a conversation.

Since I’d just wrapped up my fantasy series, I decided not to set any serious writing goals for this summer. I made a few final edits to the side project I wrote while working on Night of Flame. This book, a post-apocalyptic story in a different vein than my Seabound series, is my tenth Jordan Rivet novel, and I think it’s the best yet. I’m currently exploring the possibility of going hybrid with it (i.e., finding a traditional publisher for some books while continuing to self-publish others). I’ll keep you posted on how it goes, Diary.

Of course, I can’t stay away from writing completely. My mom and my 15-year-old sister both enjoy writing, and we had a few great work sessions at cafés around Arizona. I even got to read the first chapter of my sister’s novel-in-progress (it’s awesome). Being an expat means it’s especially noticeable when younger family members grow up in leaps and bounds while you’re away. I’m coming up on my seven-year anniversary in Hong Kong, and it’s nice that my youngest sister and I have started connecting over this shared passion.

During those sessions with my family, I worked on the worldbuilding and outlines for my shiny new fantasy series. This trilogy will be set in a different world than my Steel & Fire series, which means I get to invent a new magic system and figure out new hierarchies and political systems.

My goal for this series is to appeal to the same readers who enjoyed Steel & Fire while also being able to try all kinds of different things. The books will follow a single point-of-view character, and I’m going for a tight, tense plot rather than something sweeping and epic.

I ended up outlining all three books for the new trilogy while I was in Arizona, though I’m sure the details will change as I get into it.

JULY: Indie author reunion in London & a week in Iceland

From Arizona I flew to London to meet up with my husband, who was finishing up a business trip. While there, I met with a group of indie authors who have been a huge part of my writing life over the past two years. We are all members of the same Facebook group, and these writers have taught me many of the strategies that have contributed to my self-publishing success.

Though nervous about meeting Internet friends in real life, I found it even better than expected. The author life can be lonely, and it’s good to talk shop with people who are building their careers in the same way I am. All of us are trying to figure things out, often through trial and error. It’s been wonderful to share the journey.

From London, my husband and I flew to Iceland for a week-long trip we’d been talking about taking since we met, almost ten years ago. I know it’s a trendy place to visit right now—and it completely lives up to the hype!

Iceland also proved the perfect place to visit while the worldbuilding for my new series was kicking around in my head. Many of the places in that world aren’t set in stone yet, and I ended up adding a bit of Icelandic flavor to my mental images.

END-JULY TO AUGUST: Glad to be back in the writing saddle!

By the time I returned to Hong Kong, I was chomping at the bit to get started on the new series. After a day to recover from jet lag, I hit the ground running on the first book. After thinking about it all summer I had a pretty clear idea of how it was going to turn out. Of course, there are always surprises in the writing process, and this book was no exception.

Though the beginning went slower than anticipated as I got to know the new characters and started filling out their world, I finished the rough draft in just under three weeks. As always, I’m sure it’s going to need a lot more work. Coming in at less than 60,000 words, I think it’s missing a few chapters that will help bring the world to life.

I’ve printed out the draft, and it’s burning a hole in my bag right now, just waiting for me to open it up and start reading.

Even though summer is not yet officially over, I’m happy to be back to work. It’s always nice to get out of Hong Kong, but it’s good to be home, too.

I first started writing when I moved to Hong Kong, and this is still where I do it best. In a few weeks, I will be able to apply for permanent residency, another step along the road to establishing a lasting place for myself here.

I think I’ll always feel like an expat, a little displaced, a little homesick. But the baristas at my Starbucks seem happy to see me, and for now at least, this is home.

As always, Displaced Diary, thank you for listening.

Yours,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
www.jordanrivet.com

* * *

Shannon, I can still remember clearly when you started this column. You weren’t at all sure you could make this full-time writing gig work. And now look at where you are. Amazing! And you’re even applying to become a permanent full-time resident of Hong Kong? Wow! The displaced writer’s life clearly suits you. Keep on keeping on, that’s all I can say! ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits:
Author photo and book covers supplied.
Strawberry peanut butter M&Ms?! What?! by Heather via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Iceland photo via Pixabay.

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!

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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.

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: Chandi Wyant’s algorithm for “Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy” (1/2)


Hello, Displaced Nationers—or should I say ciao in honor of our special guest, Chandi Wyant, player number three in our Expat Author Game?

Born in California, Chandi has lived in Qatar, India, Italy, Switzerland, and England, but of these, Italy easily stands out as her favorite. Her passion for the boot-shaped country began when she lived there in her late teens, a commitment that has only deepened over the years. Having learned Italian, she went on to earn a master’s degree in Florentine Renaissance history (giving her an excuse for plenty more visits).

And now she’s living in Italy again! Back in America for a while, Chandi relocated to Lucca a few months ago, a city on the Serchio river in Italy’s Tuscany region.

I ask you, who wouldn’t want to be displaced in Lucca? As Lonely Planet puts it:

“Lovely Lucca endears itself to everyone who visits.”

But life for Chandi hasn’t always been an Italian idyll. When she reached her early forties, her marriage of 10 years imploded, and she was struck by a debilitating illness from which she nearly died (in an Italian hospital!).

Her solution to this mid-life crisis? To take a 40-day-long walk along Via Francigena, the historic pilgrimage route that runs from France to Italy. She reasoned that, although she had been weakened by illness, she could still walk. And, like pilgrims of long ago, she hoped that trekking over the Apennines, through the valleys of Tuscany until reaching Rome, would help to restore her in body and spirit.

To find out what happened on her solo adventure, I urge you to read her newly published memoir, Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy.

Hm, for an author who has withstood so much pain, including having to do most of her epic walk while suffering from plantar fasciitis (that’s what walking on asphalt for several days, with a pack on one’s back, will do to the feet), I wonder if Chandi might find our Expat Author Game a bit of cake walk?

In any event, let’s see how she handles Part One: namely, developing an algorithm for her new book. (Part Two is available here.)

If we like Return to Glow, which movie/musical/play/TV series would we also like?

The first two movies that come to mind are Wild and The Way. In Wild you’ve got a single woman on a long-distance walk, so that’s the same as my book, although mine takes place in Italy and is on an ancient pilgrimage route. So then The Way comes in because it is on a European pilgrimage route—albeit in Spain, not Italy, and the protagonist is a man. Now, to add a movie that honors the sensuality of Italy, I would choose Stealing Beauty. It’s about an American girl’s summer in Tuscany and it’s very visually lush. Bertolucci is masterful at bringing alive a sensual and sybaritic Tuscan summer. My pilgrimage was not at all sensual or sybaritic, but what Bertolucci captures in this film is also what captured my heart when I first fell in love with Italy at age 19, and what kept me returning there for the past 30 years.

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

If I may, I like to reference a post I wrote for my blog, Paradise of Exiles, about the three best dishes I ate in Florence last year:
1) Arista di maiale con salvia e rosmarino (roasted pork loin with sage and rosemary)
2) Tagliatelle con porcini e nepitella (pasta with porcini mushrooms and calamint, aka basil thyme)
3) Pizza bianca con asparagi, cipolloti primaverili, fiordilatte, e pecorino Romano (pizza with asparagus, spring onions, fresh mozzarella, and pecorino cheese)

Any of these three dishes would go wonderfully when reading my book!

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

Vin Santo, Tuscany’s dessert wine.

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

In a museum on the pilgrimage route I saw a replica of what a pilgrim from the middle ages wore, including the long staff that was carried with a gourd tied to it (the medieval Nalgene bottle!). You need a cloak, a seashell hanging around your neck, and a long staff with a gourd.

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

Pick any location on the Via Francigena in Italy! Or take my suggestions in this post of four small places found along the route, that are perhaps less familiar to tourists, and that contain historic sites worth discovering:
1) Pontremoli, a town at the base of the Apennines, on the Magra River.
2) Bagno Vignoni, a town in southern Tuscany where the main piazza is a pool of steaming thermal water!
3) Bolsena, a town in the region of Lazio, near the shores of Lake Bolsena.
4) Sutri, a town in northern Lazio that was one of the last strongholds of the Etruscans.

* * *

So, readers, tell us: Has Chandi come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of slipping into a medieval travel cloak and taking a swig of Vin Santo from your gourd while trekking along the Via Francigena make you want to buy Chandi’s book? How about supping on pizza bianca while recalling the excitement of reading/watching Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and/or imagining yourself immersed in the relaxing thermal baths at Bagno Vignoni?

If by now you’re starting to feel your inner glow, be sure to check out Chandi’s author site and its companion Facebook and Instagram pages.

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).

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!

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Photo credits:
All photos from Pixabay.

TCK TALENT: Author-speaker Chris O’Shaughnessy tells the Third Culture Kid story with belly laughs and substance


Columnist Dounia Bertuccelli is here again, in the company of another gifted Adult Third Culture Kid.

Hello again, readers! Today’s interviewee is the extraordinary Christopher O’Shaughnessy. A talented author, speaker and TCK advocate, he is passionate about what he does and also happens to be hilarious. As Lisa Ferland, editor of the Knocked Up Abroad series (see top 60 nonfiction expat books of 2016), tells it, Chris’s opening keynote speech at the Families in Global Transition conference in 2016 made a lasting impression “because he made me laugh so hard that I cried.”

Chris is a military brat. He was born in England to American parents, both of whom grew up as Third Culture Kids (his father was born in Germany and raised in France, while his mother spent most of her life in the UK). Following in the family tradition, he spent much of his childhood backing and forthing across the Atlantic as his family moved to bases in Florida and Nevada as well as to multiple US bases within the UK.

After graduating high school in the UK, Chris spent three years traveling between the United States, Germany, and Italy before returning to England to study at Ridley Hall, a theological college in Cambridge, for a degree in Youth, Community Work and Applied Theology, validated by Oxford Brookes University.

After college, Chris moved to Turkey “and then kept on gallivanting”: he can now boast of living and working across the globe and of having ventured to more than a hundred countries. (Right now he lives in Waterloo, Belgium.)

Meanwhile, his passion for nurturing youth and community has only deepened. After a career as a community director in the UK and the Middle East, and then eight years in a military chaplaincy, he became what he is today: a full-time speaker and writer sharing messages of empathy and hope with fellow Third Culture Kids, often through the use of self-deprecating humor. Particularly entertaining are his “lost in America” stories.

Chris’s first major written work is the book Arrivals, Departures and the Adventures In-Between, published by Summertime in 2014. Containing many examples from his own life, it has garnered high praise from the global community.

* * *

Welcome, Chris, to the Displaced Nation. Did growing up as a TCK influence your decision to become a writer and speaker?
Absolutely! In hindsight, a big part of the reason I chose to work with youth and communities was the desire to help people in transition. I didn’t learn the term “TCK” until my final years at university and was so thrilled knowing there was a concept which explained my experiences, that I wrote my final dissertation on TCKs. I’m a firm believer in the power of moving something from intuition to intellect. Learning I was a TCK shifted something I felt to something I could intellectually engage with, learn more about, and use as a framework to examine my life. Over the years I watched many of my peers who also grew up in transition face challenges without the benefit of realizing the strengths their upbringing had bestowed. That’s what inspired me to become a speaker and writer—I wanted “my people” to make the most of their experiences and appreciate their own unique stories. I wanted to help others process intellectually what they felt intuitively, just as I had done. That and my love of speaking into microphones.

In both your writing and speaking you’re able to touch your audience, make them laugh and think, weaving humor, empathy and hope throughout. Have you always had this ease and voice, or is this something you cultivated?
I’ve always had a love for telling stories—I find the human capacity to be moved by and immersed in story to be incredible and beautiful—and for trying to make people laugh. Laughter can be disarming because it’s genuine: it’s a physical outburst we’re relatively comfortable experiencing in a group. Comedy can be a fantastic teaching tool as we tend to remember things that have made us laugh really hard. So the desire to tell stories and make people laugh is probably in my nature, while developing the voice to do so has taken some effort. That said, I’m fortunate in that working with youth has afforded plenty of opportunities to practice and refine my public speaking skills. Kids are very honest critics!

What led you to write your book, Arrivals, Departures, and the Adventures In-Between?
I have been thrilled to see the number of books about TCKs grow over the years, many of which have been helpful for me in processing my own experiences. But while I would draw on this growing body of work in my presentations to students, parents, and school faculty, I found I wanted to leave my audiences with something more than I could possibly cover in that kind of format. So I decided to write my own book in a style that would hopefully entertain while educating and helping others process intellectually what they were going through intuitively.

How long did it take you to produce the book, and what did the process involve?
Admittedly it was a few years between deciding I needed to write a book and actually doing so. In fact, it took a friend calling me to task at a pub one evening and saying, “So, this book you’ve been planning on writing: are you ever going to actually do it?” My friend took it upon herself to hold me to deadlines; as a result, I had my first manuscript in about six months. (To be fair, I’d been thinking about things for so long, it was really just a matter of sitting down to record the concepts and stories in written form.) After I got together with Summertime Publishing, it took at least another six months to finalize the book working with Summertime’s editors and designers. Conveying stories and concepts in written form is a bit different than doing so verbally. I can be far more dynamic when presenting something live, and adapt to the audience as need be. Writing is static; it’s a different kind of discipline.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?
Actually I am in the preliminary stages of producing another book! I have been devoted a lot of my work to the concepts of hope, empathy, community, and connection in our ever-globalizing world. I firmly believe that the experiences TCKs and CCKs (cross-cultural kids) have had with multiple transitions and developing a global perspective carries wider lessons for what the world needs in order to thrive in a new era of technological connectedness and cross-cultural reality. I’m working on a book exploring these concepts—along with the need to go beyond mere tolerance toward something closer to healthy connection and community.

Do you have tips for other globally mobile individuals looking to publish a book or become speakers?
I’m sure it’s been said before…but get out there and do it! Writing and speaking are both skills that really require feedback and interaction to hone. Any opportunity to speak or write is a helpful one. No matter how small the audience, it builds experience and invites feedback. It requires vulnerability, and things don’t always go as planned. But isn’t that the very basis of a story? If it all goes smoothly it’s not very interesting! If we demand struggle and growth and mystery and reflection from stories to hold our attention, shouldn’t we expect the same from life?

I can see why people find your words inspirational! Finally, could you please share any other information or links you would like our readers to know about.
I am really excited about the What Expats Can Do project, put together by Cristina Balden and Claudia Landini of ExpatClic. It is an ingenious way to connect action with the concept of increasing empathy and bringing hope. They used some of the concepts I’d spoken about during my keynote speech at the 2016 FIGT conference (it wasn’t just belly laughs!) and took them so much further. There are challenges to participate in and stories to read—definitely worth checking out. Speaking of FIGT, I’m also a huge fan of Families in Global Transition. It’s got a wealth of resources and connections and hosts an annual conference where you can meet and interact with leaders, innovators, thinkers, and practitioners all focusing on the world of the globally mobile and cross-cultural. It’s inspiring and energizing! Last but not least, I frequently visit the following websites/magazines for inspiration and insight into our field:

Global Living Magazine
CULTURS Magazine
Denizen
• and of course, The Displaced Nation

Thank you so much, Chris! We appreciate all the great resources (and of course the shout-out!).

* * *

Readers, please leave questions or comments for Chris below. Check out his website and connect with him on social media (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter), because as Chris says, “I really do love connecting with people and exchanging stories and adventures!” And don’t forget about his book: you can preview three of the chapters 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 next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits:
Top (clockwise from top left): Interviewee photo (supplied); Gate entrance to Ridley Hall, by Sebastian Ballard via Geograph project (CC BY-SA 2.0); book cover art; and Nellis Air Force Base by Airwolfhound via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Middle: laughing, by nosha via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0),
Bottom: Surfing photo via Pixabay.

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT: As an expat spouse, I had a ticket to explore life’s infinite possibilities

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT
With this post, Indra Chopra wraps up her account of life as a privileged expat spouse, which she found just as enriching in Asia as she did in the Middle East. Hm, can a memoir be far off?ML Awanohara

To continue where I left off in my last installment: Expat life in Hong Kong spoiled me. There was such a range of things and experiences to try, whether it was the cuisine, from street food to sumptuous banquets; apparel, from local brands to top designers; or sightseeing, from standard to offbeat adventures.

My one regret was that I was at least a decade late to the party. Hong Kong feels like a young person’s habitat. It’s a land of opportunity and, when it comes to activities, one is spoilt for choice.

My old stomping—or is it dawdling?—grounds in Hong Kong

While I’m not exactly a doddering dowager, over the years my priorities have changed to something more staid. In the initial months following our arrival, I would dawdle away several hours along Nathan Road, Kowloon’s main thoroughfare. I would start at the iconic Peninsula Hotel, which flaunts its large fleet of customized Rolls-Royce Phantoms (painted “Peninsula green”) and an afternoon tea that is served in the aristocratic ambience of colonial times—features that have earned it the epithet “Grande Dame of the Far East”.

I studiously avoided the blatant commercialism of the shopping arcades and new malls, the ubiquitous sellers of “genuine fake” watches, the touristy gift shops, and the crowded dai pai dongs (open-air food stalls).

Instead I would meander towards the quirky neighborhood of Yau Ma Tei and then would move on to Jordan, an area full of countless small shops, which also has a seedier side. One can sometimes glimpse dimly lit stairways to massage parlors or off-limits clubs with bouncers ready to bounce you back into the neon-lit pavement and the dense pedestrian and vehicular traffic, not to mention the continuous projection of entertainment, things for sale, and cultural attractions constantly trying to lure you in.

Indra’s stomping—or is it dawdling?—grounds in Hong Kong

Getting from A to B has never been easier!

We soon acquired our Permanent IDs and Hong Kong driver’s licenses, which provided a feeling of security. Every six months or so, we would review our plans to purchase a car, only to be dissuaded by well-meaning friends, who would point to the traffic and exorbitant parking fees.

As it turned out, our flat didn’t come with a parking space—or maybe it did but the landlord rented it separately.

Another reason for dithering was that Hong Kong’s public transport system is convenient, reliable and always-on time. I still feel embarrassed thinking back to an occasion when I was meeting with some friends for a day out. New to Hong Kong, I gave myself a margin of one hour only to arrive in 20 minutes flat (and that was after a couple of changes, from the hotel shuttle to the Mass Transit Railway, or MTR, and from one subway line to another). My friends were surprised to hear I’d set out so early. I was calculating by Indian Standard Time, a euphemistic expression that acknowledges we Indians are always late.

Another advantage of public transport was that it helped me hone my pronunciation skills, providing a chance to reify such fuzzy place names as Fung Yuen, Ting Kok, Tai Mei Tuk, Sha Tau Kok, Wo Keng Shan, Yuen Po Street, Yuen Ngai Street, Yim Po Fong Street, Hak Po Street, etc. I would jot down these names in my iPhone but the words would soon fade.

For a long time I thought Pok Fu Lam was a pork dish until someone pointed out it is one of Hong Kong’s high-end areas! Landmarks were easier to remember except on the occasions when the store/café/cha chaan teng (tea houses)/dai pai dong/fish stall in question had disappeared overnight.

Knowing that one could rely on the MTR (or other public transport) for my escape was a welcome thought whenever I would become overwhelmed by Hong Kong’s busy cafes, book stores, convenience stores, posh shops, popular hiking spots, beaches…

The joys of riding the MTR

Exploring to my heart’s content

As an expat, I am more inquisitive than acquisitive. I did not want to waste energy in “keeping up with Joneses” and relished my anonymity, a status that permitted me to explore to my heart’s content. I would amble through neighborhoods, mysterious alleys, busy and deserted city streets, temples and pubs, the promenades (Tsim Sha Tsui, West Kowloon), Central Hong Kong, Aberdeen, the outlying islands, mountain paths… I would hop on to ferries/MTR/buses in search of the unfiltered and unlisted.

I never felt self-conscious venturing out on my own, nor did I look over my shoulder. It felt safe and normal to be a solo female in pursuit of my own little adventures.

At the beginning I would seek advice from friends, but in due course I could plan a day’s outing by using guides and maps. I would select a destination that was manageable for my walking level, from the crowded to the remote. Hong Kong is blessed with hundreds of islands, and I wanted to cover as much as I could.

So much territory to cover, so little time!

In the expat life, wonders never cease

Life was a kind of party for me until 2013, when we decided to move back to our home base: Gurgaon, India. After that we had a life of reverse travel, staying in Hong Kong for stretches in furnished apartments. I missed the continuity of expat life and the opportunity it provides for participating in local events and other activities only insiders would hear about.

Some say that a major limitation of expat life is that feeling of dépaysement, the sense of disorientation that can come from being outside of your home country. To be honest, I never experienced this feeling in my long stays in Hong Kong or Oman, simply because to me home is, as my favorite travel chronicler, displaced Indian writer Pico Iyer has said, “not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.”

In fact I often wonder how my personality would have developed had I stayed at home in the place of my birth/marriage and missed out on interactions with different nationalities and sensibilities, and been denied all the knowledge I obtained from other countries, all the many learning opportunities. There were times when I felt frazzled with the packing and unpacking and would envy friends and family living in their family homes and mansions, going for vacations and shopping abroad for a few months in a year. For them, “worldly possessions” always meant luxury.

But, then I would recall chance encounters I would have missed out on—for instance:

  • My encounters with a fellow walker in the Qurum Natural Park Rose Garden, located in the heart of Muscat (Oman’s capital city). The lady would stop me to gush about my “luck” in speaking English, the idea being that English-speaking Indians were India’s biggest export, and about how she wanted her children to study the English language. After several such encounters, I stopped going to the park as I knew where it was headed…to an invitation to coach her children.
  • The time in Salalah, Oman, when an acquaintance patted my stomach in show of remorse that I have “only two children” when she was expecting her sixth. I felt like telling her: “Lady, I am fortunate”; but desisted as we were her guests. Different countries and different takes…
  • The time in New York when a giant (to me) 6+-feet-tall African American jogger stopped in his tracks and exclaimed: “But you are so small!”
  • Countless times In Hong Kong when the super slim sales girls made me feel fat, even though I am considered “petite” in the western world and my country.

Like many of us expats, Indra sometimes felt as though she’d fallen down the rabbit hole

My husband and I have also encountered hostile reactions to our presence in foreign lands. That has been its own kind of learning process. Those who’ve taught us harsher lessons have included:

  • A churlish waitress in Shanghai who insisted on serving us beef despite our telling her we do not eat beef—my friend even drew a chicken and made flapping sounds.
  • The impassive adults in Mainland China and Hong Kong who refused to sit next to us on public transport.
  • Salespeople in a watch/perfume or brand apparel showrooms in Hong Kong who made sarcastic “no cheepo” comments simply because we happened to be from the subcontinent.
  • Someone in San Francisco who responded to my presence with a racial slur…

We travelers need to have resilience, and I’ve always been able to brush aside these unfriendly receptions. To quote Pico Iyer again:

“…I’ve always felt that the beauty of being surrounded by the foreign is that it slaps you awake.”

Repatriated, for now

For the past five months we have been living in our home city, Gurgaon. The reason: my husband is helping a friend from Mainland China set up a business in India. I am in my own house and can hire full-time help 365 days a year or have an army of part-timers doing specific tasks. I have opted for the latter: they return when they see the doors ajar.

We are back to where we ended/started. I see the shift as an opportunity to conclude my the travelogue I’ve been writing for the past four years. Whenever I tell myself “this is the last entry,” fresh new flashbacks wait to be uploaded.

In spring, the gardens here are in full bloom: mango blossoms and frangipani flowers. It’s also the time when we have the Holi festival of colors. Whenever I hear the warbling of a koel, it transports me to my hometown of Allahabad: I am surrounded by mango trees, taking an early morning dip in the River Ganges.

In short this is the best season to be in India. It is also the season for flu and since I was late in getting my flu shot, I’ve had a scratchy throat, hacking cough and fever these past couple of weeks(!).

Spring has sprung in India

Some parting thoughts

I’ve reconnected with my book club, and somewhat to my surprise, this month’s book is A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley, which as you probably know, has been turned into the movie Lion. The story tells of five-year-old Saroo’s harrowing train journey from somewhere in Central India across the plains to end in Kolkata on the Eastern shores. He saves himself from hunger, rape, murder and the adoption home in this story of grit and ingenuity.

I fully empathized with Saroo as I find Kolkata (Calcutta) the filthiest city in India. (I first visited Kolkata in 1979, and that was my last because I refused to set foot in the city despite its historical and literary past.)

Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple and taken to Tasmania. But eventually he is consumed by the desire to find his real family and, using Google Earth, tracks the place of his birth and early childhood. Twenty-five years after his departure from India, he returns to his hometown and is reunited with his biological mother and sister. The story has a fairy-tale ending: the two families are united and everyone lives happily ever after.

Reading this novel has rekindled another memory—of an afternoon spent with a friend in Guangzhou, China, in 2011. My friend had taken me to a city park and I was surprised to see nearly a dozen Caucasian parents with identical prams containing Chinese infants. I had read about the adoption process being a large-scale industry in China; but I found I had mixed emotions at the sight of these innocent babies, oblivious about their soon-to-be-taken journeys to far-away lands. On the one hand, it’s a blessing for these children to find homes where they’ll be loved and cared for. On the other, I wondered whether these children would someday seek closure like Saroo did.

The picture of these prams comes to mind whenever I read about adopted children returning to their “homes” to find their real parents. It must be a good thing that China has now ended its famous one-child policy that made so many parents opt to keep the boys or “Little Buddhas” and give away the girls for adoption or to relatives.

And speaking of adoption, I now look back on the life that I led in my adoptive city, Hong Kong, through the privileged eyes of a global citizen. True, the island country has problems with increasing population, pollution, traffic and rampant materialism. But for me it will always be a rainbow land, where I was able to lead a charmed existence.

Reading about an adopted Indian child in A Long Way Home, Indra’s first association takes her back to her adopted homeland…

* * *

Thank you, Indra! I appreciate your ability to see the bigger picture in all of this. Despite setbacks, despite coming to the party a little late, as you put it, you made the most of your expat opportunities and always understood how privileged you were to have places like Muscat and Hong Kong as your personal playgrounds. I also really appreciate your story about reading A Long Way Home with your book club back in India. It often strikes me that one of the biggest legacies of expat life is having a different set of associations to most people in your homeland! I take these instances as little reminders of the enriched life I have led, and I suspect you do as well… —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. Other photos supplied or else downloaded from Pixabay.

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