An Interview with Sara Saunders, Author of the TCK Book “Swirly” [—at A Life Overseas]

May 30, 2019 § Leave a comment

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There have been a lot of books written about Third Culture Kids but not so many for them, especially for young TCKs. Swirly, written by adult-TCK Sara Saunders and illustrated by Matthew Pierce, helps remedy that. It’s a picture book that tells the story of a little girl, Lila, who moves with her family overseas, returns back to her family’s “home” country, and then lands at another, new, destination, all the while trying to figure out where she belongs.

Since 2012, when Swirly was published, I’ve seen it displayed at conferences and included on TCK reading lists, but it wasn’t until recently that I purchased a copy to read myself. I also shared it with my wife, and she read the last few pages to our college-age daughter, who’d grown up overseas. It brought tears to my wife’s eyes.

I wanted to hear more from Sara, so I contacted her, and she graciously agreed to answer a few questions:

First of all, where are you from? Just kidding! Better question—Where have you lived? Tell us about your cross-cultural experience as a child.

I was born in the United States, which is my passport country and both of my parents’ passport country. We moved to Nigeria when I was almost 8-years old and lived there for ten years. But I was away at boarding school in Kenya most of the time from age 14-18. My parents were missionaries for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, serving in a mission hospital. As a young adult I have also lived and studied or worked in the United States, Thailand, Mexico, Nigeria again, Kenya again, Uganda, and now Lebanon.

Finish reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Marbles,” by Peter Miller, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Dot-to-Dots and Murals, Larger than Life

May 24, 2019 § Leave a comment

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A lot of the traffic to this blog comes from Google searches that have nothing to do with cross-cultural issues. That’s the case for visitors who come to “Listening: Connecting the Dots” because they’re interested in connect-the-dot pictures. I know this this happens because of how many click through to Whitney Waller’s piece of art.

I understand. Dot-to-dots are fun. And they’re really fun when they’re really big. Take for instance, the largest one in the world. It was created by Phil Hansen in 2018 and contains 52,901 dots, shattering the old record by more than 43,000. The subject of Hansen’s record-breaking creation is a Native American named Big Head, as photographed by Edward Curtis in 1905.

“I was drawn to that older face,” Hansen tells Ideas.TED.com. “I liked that kind of skin, that texture. It’s the classic image of Native Americans many of us have—a person who looks wise.” But Hansen soon discovered that there is often more to a “classic image” than is first apparent.

“There I was making the piece, when I read that Edward Curtis was looked on poorly by some people because he would edit his photographs to make native people look more ‘native.’ He’d edit out things like clocks, or have people wear headdresses or beaded clothing from a different tribe if they didn’t have any.” This led Hansen to connect the dots in his own background. “I began to realize,” he says, “that I grew up in a culture that edited Native Americans. And I was a product of it.”

Hansen’s relationship with TED.com began with his 2013 TED Talk, “Embrace the Shake.” In it he describes how, as an art student devoted to pointillism, he developed a hand tremor, the result of permanent nerve damage. Initially, this caused him to walk away from art but then later led him to the notion that “embracing a limitation could actually drive creativity.” This brought about art in new and unexpected formats, for example, drawing on Starbuck’s cups, painting with hamburger grease . . . and constructing a huge do-to-dot image).

Learning about Hansen’s art got me looking for other bigger-than-life artistic endeavors, and my search did not go unrewarded. Here are some of those I found.

For starters, there’s the world’s largest outdoor mural, painted on grain silos by 22 artists in Incheon, South Korea.

Wichita is home to the world’s largest acrylic mural by a single artist, painted by Armando Minjarez, who immigrated to the US from Mexico in 2001. Minjarez also used grain bins as his canvas, portraying the Mexican laborers who built the train tracks in Wichita 100 years ago.

And then there’s the headquarters of Cacau Show, a chocolate company in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which has been transformed into a giant chocolate bar. Painted by a group led by Brazilian Eduardo Kobra, the image pays tribute to the harvesters of cocoa beans and is the world’s largest spray-painted mural by a team.

Kate Torgovnick May, “How Do You Make the World’s Biggest Connect-the-Dots?” Ideas.TED.com,
July 24, 2018)

[photo: “Big Head [B],” by Edward Curtis, Library of Congress, public domain]

Crossing Cultures in Stealth Mode

May 16, 2019 § Leave a comment

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Have you ever been overseas and wished that you could just blend in—going unnoticed, attracting no stares?

Sometimes, that’s hard to do:

But other times, you’re in a place where you look as if you could fit in. For instance, that could be me in England, where my ancestors are from. I have the genetic foundation for looking like a Brit, but it’s the extra things—the add ons, so to speak—that are harder to manage.

Below is an interesting video featuring Jonna Mendez, the CIA’s former chief of disguise. In it, she says that her goal in the agency was to help people disappear in plain sight. “You want to be the person,” she explains, “that gets on the elevator and then gets off, and nobody really remembers that you were even there.”

But a physical disguise can only go so far. Especially, it seems, for those of us from the States. According to Mendez, “Americans are oblivious to what it is that reveals them to a foreign crowd, or a foreign intelligence service, when they’re out in public.” She then goes on to point out how we use silverware differently than Europeans do (they cut their meat and eat with their forks staying in the left hand, while we switch our forks to the right hand to put food in our mouths), how we hold cigarettes differently (they put their smokes between the thumb and first finger, while we put it between our first two fingers), and even how we stand (Europeans tend to stand with their weight evenly balanced between their feet, while we put most of our weight on one foot or the other).

Of course, clothes can be a giveaway, too. If you’re an American in Europe and don’t want to be a target for those who prey on tourists, she suggests, you could wear clothes that you’ve bought from a local store or put a local pack of cigarettes in your pocket.

Ladies, if you want to blend in in France, here are seven clothing non-nons from Marie-Anne Lecoeur, author of How to Be Chic and Elegant. I must say, I love her accent, especially as she describes tip number two, “No plunging necklines.” I’m pretty sure she says you don’t want to wear a top where “a lot of your bust is explosed.” How appropriate.

Lecoeur is something of a fashionista. American travel guru, Mark Wolters, is nothing of the sort (something he is eager to point out in this next video). But he does have apparel tips for Americans traveling in Europe, aimed mostly at the male population over 35.

Of course, this all requires that you don’t blow your cover by opening your mouth and saying something.

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Once, in London, I was taking a ride on a red double-decker bus and saw two women, fellow visitors also enjoying the sights. Wanting to strike up a conversation with some fellow Americans, I asked, “Where are ya’ll from?”

“Well,” one answered. “Now we know where you’re from. We’re Canadians.”

I can’t even blend in with the tourists.

[photos: “Moth in Stealth Mode,” by feck_aRt_post, used under a Creative Commons license; “Double-Decker Bus,” by Kevin Oliver, used under a Creative Commons license]

A Distant Look Back at Missionaries and Attrition, Part II [—at A Life Overseas]

April 28, 2019 § Leave a comment

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In part one of this “distant look back,” I discussed the length of time missionaries of the past spent on the field, using data from William Gordon Lennox’s 1933 book, The Health and Turnover of Missionaries. In this segment, I’ll move on to the reasons why their time overseas came to an end.

When determining the causes of missionary attrition, Lennox understands the challenge of drilling down to the truth, writing,

The elder Morgan is credited with this statement, “There are two reasons for a man’s decisions: first, a good reason; second, the real reason.” How many missionaries leave their work is not nearly so interesting and pertinent a question as, why do they leave? Obtaining this information for all missionaries who have left service is a real task. Precipitating or contributing factors must be separated from those of fundamental importance; the reasons which lie behind the merely good reasons must, if possible, be unearthed.

For the missionary employer a lack of funds may be an excellent reason with which to cover his real dissatisfaction with the work of an employee. For the missionary himself, ill health may subconsciously act as substitute for a more fundamental but unexpressed dislike for his missionary task.

To track reasons for withdrawal, Lennox received data from the following missionary boards in the US, for the noted time periods: the general boards of the Methodist Episcopal Church and Northern Baptist Convention (1900-1928), the Northern Baptist women’s board, the board of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, and the American Board (1918-1928), and the Young Women’s Christian Association (1918-1927). These groups reported reasons for withdrawal for 3,712 of the 3,733 missionaries who ended their service during these years.

Go to A Life Overseas for the rest of this post. . . .

(William Gordon Lennox, The Health and Turnover of Missionaries, Methodist Book Concern, 1933)

[Photo by Made By Morro on Unsplash]

 

Chairs, 2, 3, 4

April 17, 2019 § Leave a comment

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“Bauhaus Movement: Every Time You Sit Down, Thank the German Art School”

Every time you plop yourself down in a chair at work, rush to your favorite seat in class, or lounge at your desk at home, you can think the Bauhaus Movement. The Bauhaus was originally a German arts school started in 1919, whose teachings eventually developed into an art and thought movement that inspired a generation of artisans, architects, and designers around the world. [April 12] was the centennial celebration of Bauhaus, and Google marked the occasion with a front-page doodle.

Hungarian furniture designer Marcel Breuer was one of the first and youngest students at the Bauhaus. He was quickly recognized for his carpentry skills, and in short order became the head of the school’s carpentry shop. Eventually, Breuer designed two pieces of furniture that changed chair design forever: the Cesca Chair and the Wassily Chair.

The Cesca was the first chair made out of a combination of tubular steel and caned seating that was also mass-produced, and has since become a common chair in offices and homes. . . .

[The Cesca] eventually became the blueprint for countless chairs after it. Cara McCarty, the former associate curator at the department of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art considered it to be a pivotal invention in furniture design.

“It’s among the 10 most important chairs of the twentieth century,” she told The New York Times in 1991.

Danny Paez, Inverse, April 12, 2019

[photo: “|1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|,” by Gerry Dincher, used under a Creative Commons license]

Of Making Many Parenting Labels There Is No End

April 12, 2019 § Leave a comment

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When we brought one of our sons back to the States to start college, we heard a presenter at the new-student orientation stressing how we should let go and give our children the space  to develop independence. We needed to resist the urge to call the dean after the first failed test, to keep in touch but not hover and interfere—in other words, not to be Helicopter Parents. That wasn’t exactly what we wanted to hear. Since we’d be living on the other side of the globe, we were looking for ways to feel closer, not farther apart.

But we also understood that most other parents weren’t in our situation and that we’d have to figure out, largely on our own, how to be the best Passport Parents we could be.

OK, I made up that parenting style, but I’m not the only one to create a new name for ways to raise children. In fact, we in the US have developed something of a cottage industry for parenting-label creation. It’s gotten so that there are so many classifications that it’s hard to keep them all straight.  So, as a public service, I’m going to run through the ones I’ve come across. Most of these are American-made, but I’ve thrown in some cross-cultural examples as well for good measure.

So we’ll start with variations on helicoptering. . . .

While helicopter parents hover and intrude, Attack-Helicopter Parents swoop in ready for a fight when their children are threatened. They’re also known as Blackhawk Parents, Jet Fighter ParentsStealth Fighter Parents, Stealth Bomber Parents, and Drone Parents—though Drone Parents can also be those who use high-tech to track their children’s every move. Traffic Helicopter Parents keep their distance but give advice when needed, while Satellite Parents don’t hover at all but instead are simply disengaged and uninvolved.

Other countries have their own versions of helicopter styles. In Hong Kong and Japan, in-your-face overly aggressive moms and dads are known as Monster Parents. Mothers in Gangnam, a wealthy district of Seoul, Korea, who micromanage their children’s education have gifted the world with the term Gangnam Moms. Kyoiku Mamas (“Education Moms”) are Japanese mothers who are overly concerned with their children’s academic success, and Pig Moms are wealthy Korean mothers who coddle their children as if they were piglets.

Tiger Mothers certainly don’t coddle their tiger-cub children. Coined by Chinese-American Amy Chua in her 2011 book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, this parenting label refers to an Asian style of strict parenting aimed at producing successful children. Not to be outdone, around the same time, Chinese dad Xiao Bayou wrote a book titled Beat Them Into Peking University (the title was later changed to the less threatening So, Brothers and Sisters of Peking University). He and other self-proclaimed Wolf Dads tout an uber-tough brand of raising over achievers. Cat Dads, on the other hand, are Chinese fathers who use a more sensitive, less authoritarian approach to child rearing.

The Singaporean versions of Tiger Moms are are called Lion Mums, which led researchers at Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies (as reported in The Straits Times) to come up with the term Loving Lion Parents, for those who take a somewhat softer approach, prodding their kids to earn good grades without sacrificing a happy environment.

Recent college-admission scandals in the US have brought attention to the kind of parents who are eager to remove all obstacles and challenges from their children’s paths. They’re called Lawnmower Parents, Bulldozer Parents, Snowplow Parents, or Curling Parents (you know, after the sport where someone sweeps the ice in front of a “stone” to help it reach the target).

Stage Moms push their children to be actors, while Soccer Moms, Hockey Moms, Dance MomsCheer MomsSports Dads, and Tennis Dads devote time and effort toward their kids’ success in their respective activities.

In the face of all this over parenting, some have chosen to be Free Range Parents, giving freedom to their children to promote independence. This is not to be confused with Jellyfish Parents, who are overly permissive, expecting little from their children. In 2014, Psychiatrist Shimi Kang, born to Indian-immigrant parents in Canada, wrote The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids without Turning into a Tiger. She rejects tiger parenting and jellyfish parenting (she created that term) and instead tells moms and dads how to be Dolphin Parents who, she says, are “firm but flexible.”

More animal-inspired parenting options include Hummingbird Parents, who hover farther away, giving freedom, but fly in to help when needed, and Elephant Parents, who nurture and protect, particularly when their children are young.

More examples in the category of over-parenting are Sherpa Parents and Concierge Parents. Sherpa Parents, like Himalayan guides, do the heavy lifting and carry their children’s loads as they scale the mountains of life. And Concierge Parents serve their kids as if they were guests in a hotel. These are the opposite of Couch Potato Parents, who simply yell commands at their youngsters with no involvement or follow-up.

And then there are Facebook Parents, who overshare about their kids online.

Lighthouse Parents (from pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg, in Raising Kids to Thrive: Balancing Love with Expectations and Protection with Trustallow their children to explore the seas of life while they stay on the shore, pointing out dangers. Similarly, Submarine Parents stay under the surface but rise up when their children need them. And Duct Tape Parents (from Vicki Hoefle in Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids) step away and keep their mouths closed to teach their young ones how to navigate life on their own.

Finally, I’ll end with mothers and fathers who are Dragon Parents. My first thought was that these were Tiger Parents on steroids, but that’s not it at all. While many of the labels above are used to snarkily point out parental shortcomings, this one has a much more profound message behind it. The name was coined by author Emily Rapp in a 2011 New York Times essay titled “Notes from a Dragon Mom.” She writes about caring for her little boy, Ronan, who had Tay-Sachs, a terminal genetic disorder. She presents a sobering picture:

Ronan won’t prosper or succeed in the way we have come to understand this term in our culture; he will never walk or say “Mama,” and I will never be a tiger mom. The mothers and fathers of terminally ill children are something else entirely. Our goals are simple and terrible: to help our children live with minimal discomfort and maximum dignity. We will not launch our children into a bright and promising future, but see them into early graves. We will prepare to lose them and then, impossibly, to live on after that gutting loss. This requires a new ferocity, a new way of thinking, a new animal. We are dragon parents: fierce and loyal and loving as hell. Our experiences have taught us how to parent for the here and now, for the sake of parenting, for the humanity implicit in the act itself, though this runs counter to traditional wisdom and advice.

Most of us will never need to be Dragon Parents. Instead we’ll be free to choose another model for raising our children. But whatever the path we take, we’ll all do well to learn, along with them, from them, “how to parent for the here and now.”

[photo: “Mother elephant with twins in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, East Africa,” by Diana Robinson, used under a Creative Commons license]

A Distant Look Back at Missionaries and Attrition—Part I [—at A Life Overseas]

March 30, 2019 § Leave a comment

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The opinion is often expressed that the present-generation missionary does not view his work as a work for life.         —William Lennox

Not every former missionary gets an obituary printed in The New York Times, but in 1960, William Gordon Lennox did. Born in Colorado Springs in 1884, Lennox attended Colorado College, but when he applied to the Boston University Divinity School, he was rejected because of his deficiencies in Latin and Greek. For his fall-back plan, he earned a medical degree from Harvard Medical School, followed by spending four years as a medical missionary in China. It was during his time there that he saw epilepsy firsthand, and upon his return to the States, he devoted himself to the study of the disease, as a teacher and researcher at Harvard. In time, he became known as the “father” of the modern epilepsy movement in the US.*

Also, along the way, he wrote The Health and Turnover of Missionaries, in 1933. I referred to this book in my post “What Is the Average Length of Service for Missionaries on the Field? The Long and the Short of It, ” and having found a copy since then, I’d like to share more from this extensive study.

Before diving into the more recent findings, Lennox begins by taking a broad look back at “the entire journeyings of the missionary host.”

  • In the more than 100 years of Protestant missionary work preceding the book’s publication, approximately 75,000 missionaries had gone out, providing around 1 million years of service.
  • Their efforts resulted in 110 national Christians per missionary, or 8.3 for each year of work.
  • These missionaries served an average of 12.5 years, with those married averaging 13.7 years, and singles, 8.5 years.
  • By 1923, there were over 29,000 missionaries—representing 826 societies and committees in Europe, the United States, and Canada—serving abroad.

Continue reading Part I at A Life Overseas. . . .

(William Gordon Lennox, The Health and Turnover of Missionaries, Methodist Book Concern, 1933; “William Lennox Obituary,” The New York Times, July 23, 1960 (at Lasker Foundation, retrieved from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine)

[Photo by Made By Morro on Unsplash]

 

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