Thursday, 30 September 2010
Foreword by Ruth E. Van Reken
Foreword of 'Home Keeps Moving' by Ruth E. Van Reken
"In today’s globalizing world, life is becoming more culturally complex for countless individuals who, for many different reasons, are now growing, or have grown up, among many cultural environments. Rather than living in the world most children in past generations knew–a world where most folks interacted or operated with the same shared basic set of cultural rules, traditions, and lenses, through which they saw the world–many young people in today’s world grow up daily interacting in signiﬁcant ways with people of widely divergent cultural norms, traditions, and world views. The truth is, as a global community, we are living out a great social experiment on a level never done before. If we learn our personal and cultural identities by having it mirrored back from our surrounding culture, how will this cultural juggling affect the lives of children who grow up among the many worlds rather than just one? No one knows for sure.
But there is one experience from the past that can give us clues for the present and future. In 1984, Dr. Ted Ward, a sociologist at Michigan State University, declared that third culture kids (TCKs)–those children who were growing up in a culture outside their parents’ passport culture for a signiﬁcant period of their developmental years–were the prototype citizen of the future. He meant that because of changes due to transportation, communication, and trade, children of many backgrounds all over the world, would soon be growing up interacting with many cultural environments and high mobility. When Dr. Ruth Useem named them in the 1950’s, TCKs were primarily children of those who had gone overseas for their careers–military, embassy, colonial powers, corporate, and missions. The major inﬂux of children into these ranks occurred after WWII, when many more people began to settle temporarily overseas because of the increase in multinational companies and trade, coupled with new ease of transportation. If we take a look at the impact of a globally mobile childhood on a child who grows up in that internationally mobile environment, we can examine the longer term impact of trying to learn personal and cultural identity when the mirror around is always changing its message to tell children who they are. Sometimes the local cultural mirror reﬂects that children are clear foreigners, neither physically resembling the dominant culture nor sharing the traditions or beliefs and values held in the deeper part of that surrounding culture. Other times, however, they may be “hidden immigrants” — physically resembling those around them, but not sharing knowledge of how life in this local culture works. And so it goes.
By looking at TCKs—this community of those who have already lived among many cultural worlds in their formative years—we can also begin to have clues for the possible responses other children may have when they move between cultures for reasons other than their parents’ careers. In applying lessons learned from the TCK experience, we can begin to recognize gifts in these other experiences as well. They may be children of minorities who successfully navigate between different cultural environments daily as they go to school in the dominant culture and “repatriate” to their home’s culture each evening. Others may be children of immigrants who annually travel back and forth between the parents’ former homeland and the new country in which they live to visit grandma. Some are children of bicultural marriages who begin life already negotiating cultural worlds within the walls of their home.
In Home Keeps Moving, Heidi Sand-Hart is giving us the opportunity to understand the traditional TCK experience that she and others have known. It is important for us to understand the basic story of those who, like her, grew up internationally mobile for their sake and also for the sake of those who love and work with them. But Heidi’s story and those she includes from other TCKs also take us into the expanding cultural complexity so many face in our world. Heidi is not only a traditional TCK, but she has an added layer of cultural nuances because her parents come from two different countries and cultures. In addition, she did not simply live between one home and one host country but moved multiple times among many. Her story reﬂects an increasingly common one, where the layering of cultural mixing almost deﬁes comprehension, when compared with a traditional childhood of the past. As you read, you will enter into a better understanding of what many TCKs and other cross-cultural kids (CCKs) experience as they grow up in this “new normal” of increasing cultural complexity. However, hopefully as you read, you will be able to have deeper insight into your own life story and/ or others you know. Why? Because essentially the TCK story is not about people who are different, but about an experience which may be different from the common ways children grew up in the past. In the end, it is a story of human beings who, like all people throughout the ages, experience joy when they increase their knowledge and awareness of the world, but also experience grief when they lose something they love—be it friend, place, or a stage in life. Like children of all backgrounds, TCKs are shaped by the events and patterns of their formative years. You will learn what some of those common events and responses often are. But, in the end, you will also see that TCKs share the human feelings of joy, pain, celebration, despair, loneliness, belonging, loss, and great gain with others whose stories are quite unlike their own. The context of the stories you will read here is speciﬁc. The application of lessons learned from these TCK stories is universal. May you enjoy what you read and grow in the life you live because of what you encounter in the following pages!"
Ruth E. Van Reken
Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds
Co-founder, Families in Global Transition conference.
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