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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When It’s Hard to Want to Want to Be Back [—at A Life Overseas]

April 26, 2017 § 3 Comments

Our pictures are on the walls!

It’s been a year since I wrote about the long process I and my family were going through fitting back into life in the States and not yet feeling at home—still not having our pictures hung up. Since then, quite a few things have changed, and I would be remiss if I didn’t pass that on as well. I have a new job and my wife is able to stay at home, and we’ve unpacked our pictures and they’re all hanging in the house we’ve been able to buy.

We are so grateful for the ways God has helped us move forward.

But though it’s been over five years since we came back, we can’t say that the transition is completely behind us. It’s still there, just now in less obvious ways.

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This post is about reverse culture stress, but it’s not about the difficulties of fitting back into a home culture or family culture or church culture. It’s about the undercurrent of feelings that flow in the opposite direction of our physical move. It’s about the difficulty of wanting to fit in. It’s about the difficulty of wanting to want to.

What are some of the things that hold returned missionaries back from pouring our whole hearts into settling in? What are the feelings—good or bad, right or wrong—that can keep us from jumping into this new chapter? Here are a few I’ve noticed. . . .

Finish reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

For Global Nomads, a Better Question than “Where Are You From?”

June 6, 2014 § 4 Comments

3117467895_011eeea741_zLast week I had the extreme pleasure of meeting with a small group who came together as Global Nomads.

The vocabulary in the conversations was peppered with insider words and phrases. Of course there was global nomad itself, as well as TCK and Adult Third Culture Kid and army brat and MK. But there was also talk of using “English English” and recognizing something as “weirdly comforting.”

No one was in charge. No one gave a prepared presentation. Instead, we just talked. It was kind of like a panel discussion where the audience was the panel itself.

Everyone there was a professional in higher education, but the backgrounds and countries represented were diverse. I was the first one to arrive, and as others came into the room, I asked them, out of habit, “Where are you from?” I only meant “Where do you live?” or “Where did you arrive here from?” I really wasn’t looking for a philosophical response, but in this group, it may have felt as if I were. One person responded with something like, “Oh, that is the question, isn’t it?”

We went around the room and introduced ourselves, and as people continued to join us, we introduced ourselves again. One person had started a group for global nomads on her college campus. One had done her doctoral dissertation on TCKs and university life. One had married an Adult TCK. One was preparing to move overseas.

One mentioned a book he’d read about authors who’d grown up abroad. When I later searched for it on the internet, I found out it is Antje M. Rauwerda’s The Writer and the Overseas Childhood: The Third Culture Literature of Kingsolver, McEwan and Others. While I was looking, I also ran across Writing out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids, a compilation of essays by and about TCKs, edited by Gene H. Bell-Villada, Nina SichelFaith Eidse, and Elaine Neil Orr. I’ve added both books to my Amazon.com Wish List, but I’m afraid the prices will continue to go up rather than down. Even the used copies are over $30.

My search also led me to a blog post written by Sichel, who, along with Eidse, also edited Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Globala book that I’d put on my list long ago. In her post, “The Trouble with Third Culture Kids,” Sichel talks, in the context of children’s mental health, about “chameleons,” “adjustment problems,” “TCK grief,” and “existential loss.”

She writes about a young TCK who is struggling: “She doesn’t want to talk about it.  She doesn’t know where to begin.” When you meet such a girl, she says, “don’t ask her where she’s from, or what’s troubling her.” Instead, she offers a better response, one that would work with adult “kids” as well:

Ask her where she’s lived.  Ask her what she’s left behind.  Open doors.  And just listen.  Give her the time and space and permission she needs to remember and to mourn.  She has a story—many stories.  And she needs and deserves to be heard, and to be healed, and to be whole.

“Where have you lived?” I’m going to try that next time I meet a global nomad. And if she seems to be weighed down in her soul, I’ll ask, “What have you left behind?” Then I’ll try to be quiet and just listen.

(Nina Sichel, “The Trouble with Third Culture Kids,” Children’s Mental Health Network, February 11, 2013)

[photo: “Which Way to Go,” by theilr, used under a Creative Commons license]

Repost – You Remember You’re a Repat when . . . (Part 1)

January 7, 2014 § 7 Comments

Repatriation—to borrow a phrase from John Denver—is coming home to a place you’ve never been before.

Here’s a repost from my first year blogging, with 92 things that remind repats that they’ve been out of the country for a while. As time goes by, more and more of them are happening less and less for me. But some will never go away.

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In the hallowed tradition of “You Know You’re an Expat / Third Culture Kid / Missionary when . . .” lists, I offer my own version for repats. This is for the times when you’re reminded that your plug doesn’t always fit the outlet.

Since I’m a former missionary to Asia who’s repatriated back to the US, a lot of my list leans in that direction, but I hope there’s something here for repats of every stripe (or voltage, as it were).

You remember you’re a repat when . . .

1. Your passport is your preferred form of ID.
2. You comment on how cheap gas is in the US.
3. You ask your friends who they’re picking to win the World Cup.
4. Your CNN web page is set on “International.”
5. You accidentally try to pay for something with the strange coins from the top of your dresser.
6. You don’t trust your friends when they say they’ve found a “good” Italian restaurant.
7. You ask the clerk at the convenience store if you can pay your electric bill there.
8. You don’t know how to fill out taxes without Form 2555.
9. You think Americans are loud.
10. You talk about Americans overseas and call them “foreigners.”
11. You find out that living overseas is not the top qualification employers are looking for.
12. You learn to stop talking about the nanny and groundskeeper you used to employ.
13. You have to ask how to write a check.
14. You forgot how many numbers to dial for a local phone call.
15. You tell your toddler, “No seaweed until you finish all your hamburger.”
16. You try to order fried chicken at Burger King.
17. You check prices by converting from what a similar item cost overseas.
18. You think American paper money is boring because it lacks color and the bills are all the same size.
19. You don’t know how to respond when people say, “I bet you’re glad to be back home.”
20. You prefer to hear news reports from someone with a British accent.
21. You wonder why all the commentators on TV are yelling.
22. You wish you’d brought back ten of your favorite kitchen utensil because you didn’t know it’s not sold in the States.
23. You realize international students are you’re kind of people.
24. You ask where you can get a late-model, low-mileage Toyota for around $2000.
25. You turn on the subtitles on an English movie because you don’t want to miss anything.
26. You ask the clerk at the video store if they have VCDs.
27. You wonder if organization should be spelled with an s.
28. You load up your suitcase and you try not to “pack like an American.”
29. You stop bringing your bi-lingual Bible to church.
30. You smirk inside because someone calls a 4.3 earthquake “a big one.”

(Part 2Part 3)

[top photo: “Electrical Outlet,” by grendelkhan, used under a Creative Commons license; bottom photo: “Having It Both Ways,” by Keith Williamson, used under a Creative Commons license]

You Remember You’re a Repat when . . . (Part 1)

August 4, 2012 § 20 Comments

In the hallowed tradition of “You Know You’re an Expat / Third Culture Kid / Missionary when . . .” lists, I offer my own version for repats. This is for the times when you’re reminded that your plug doesn’t always fit the outlet.

Since I’m a former missionary to Asia who’s repatriated back to the US, a lot of my list leans in that direction, but I hope there’s something here for repats of every stripe (or voltage, as it were).

You remember you’re a repat when . . .

1. Your passport is your preferred form of ID.
2. You comment on how cheap gas is in the US.
3. You ask your friends who they’re picking to win the World Cup.
4. Your CNN web page is set on “International.”
5. You accidentally try to pay for something with the strange coins from the top of your dresser.
6. You don’t trust your friends when they say they’ve found a “good” Italian restaurant.
7. You ask the clerk at the convenience store if you can pay your electric bill there.
8. You don’t know how to fill out taxes without Form 2555.
9. You think Americans are loud.
10. You talk about Americans overseas and call them “foreigners.”
11. You find out that living overseas is not the top qualification employers are looking for.
12. You learn to stop talking about the nanny and groundskeeper you used to employ.
13. You have to ask how to write a check.
14. You forgot how many numbers to dial for a local phone call.
15. You tell your toddler, “No seaweed until you finish all your hamburger.”
16. You try to order fried chicken at Burger King.
17. You check prices by converting from what a similar item cost overseas.
18. People say, “football,” and you ask, “Which kind?”
19. You don’t know how to respond when people say, “I bet you’re glad to be back home.”
20. You prefer to hear news reports from someone with a British accent.
21. You wonder why all the commentators on TV are yelling.
22. You wish you’d brought back ten of your favorite kitchen utensil because you didn’t know it’s not sold in the States.
23. You realize international students are you’re kind of people.
24. You ask where you can get a late-model, low-mileage Toyota for around $2000.
25. You turn on the subtitles on an English movie because you don’t want to miss anything.
26. You ask the clerk at the video store if they have VCDs.
27. You wonder if organization should be spelled with an s.
28. You load up your suitcase and you try not to “pack like an American.”
29. You stop bringing your bi-lingual Bible to church.
30. You just smile at people who say, “So I guess you’re all settled in now.”

(Part 2Part 3)

[top photo: “Electrical Outlet,” by grendelkhan, used under a Creative Commons license; bottom photo: “Having It Both Ways,” by Keith Williamson, used under a Creative Commons license]

You Remember You’re a Repat when . . . (Part 2)

August 4, 2012 § 7 Comments

(Part 1)

You remember you’re a repat when . . .

31. You stock up on Mountain Dew because you never know when it won’t be available again, and you check the expiration dates.
32. You think the public schools are great because the teachers are all proficient in English.
33. You read all your junk mail because it looks important.
34. You don’t hang pictures on the wall in case you’ll be moving again soon.
35. You still have unopened boxes shipped from overseas, and you don’t have a clue what’s inside them.
36. For Christmas, you open up one of those boxes.
37. Even though you own a house, you still catch yourself turning the music down so you won’t “bother the neighbors downstairs.”
38. You’re invited to a bar-b-que and your first thought is “I hope they don’t give me the fatty part of the goat’s tail.”
39. You hand the cashier at Wal-Mart your credit card instead of swiping it yourself.
40. You put your hand lotion in 3 oz. containers just to drive to visit grandma.
41. You’re frustrated that you have to ask for chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant.
42. You have to ask what’s the right amount to spend on a wedding gift.
43. You give up trying to decide which shampoo to buy.
44. You ask your friends to take off their shoes when they enter your home.
45. People ask where you’re from and you just answer with the name of the city where you live now.
46. You skip reading the Facebook posts of your former coworkers overseas because it’s just too hard.
47. When you buy clothes, you check to see that the brand name is spelled correctly.
48. You stop telling stories about your old host country because people stop asking for them.
49. Now that you’ve returned, your family members can tell you they didn’t know why you went over there in the first place.
50. People who knew you before you left ask if you’ve “gotten that out of your system.”
51. You go to the hospital for surgery and you take your own towels and gauze.
52. Your high schooler is pulled over for a routine traffic stop and gets out of the car before the policeman approaches.
53. You question the waitress’s math skills until you remember she simply added tax.
54. You realize that Taco Bell isn’t quite as good as you remembered it.
55. Your daughter calls herself an “African American” because she was born in Africa.
56. You look forward to mowing the lawn, because you have a lawn.
57. You say “here” and you mean the US, not the town you’re in.
58. You take an umbrella outside when the sun is shining.
59. “Made in Taiwan” labels fill you with nostalgia.
60. People correct you when you pronounce foreign names the way they’re supposed to sound.

(Part 3)

[top photo: “Electrical Outlet,” by grendelkhan, used under a Creative Commons license; bottom photo: “Having It Both Ways,” by Keith Williamson, used under a Creative Commons license]

You Remember You’re a Repat when . . . (Part 3)

August 4, 2012 § 7 Comments

(Part 1, Part 2)

You remember you’re a repat when . . .

61. You describe a city as “small” because it has only a million residents.
62. You hear yourself saying at the dinner table, “Where’s the garlic?”
63. You pull out the winter coats when the temperature gets below 70 degrees; or you pull out the shorts when it gets above 40.
64. You get a bill from the doctor and you call to see whose clerical error made the amount so high.
65. Glade’s “Ocean Breeze” scent isn’t any substitute for the real thing.
66. You assume everyplace in the US has WiFi, just like in the city you used to live in.
67. Wearing your traditional ethnic shirt isn’t as much fun now that you’re not going back again.
68. You ask at the grocery store if they have KLIM powdered milk. When they say “No,” you ask when they expect it to be in.
69. You buy three cartons of Hagen Dazs ice cream because it’s one third of the price of Hagen Dazs in your old host country. When you get home, your spouse reminds you it’s still too expensive.
70. You reset your new computer’s clock to military time.
71. You need to convert to the metric system to make sure of distances and temperatures.
72. You get fully dressed to sit in your living room because someone may be peeking in the window.
73. Airports feel like home.
74. The thought of moving again sends you into a panic attack. But your spouse feels the same way about staying put.
75. Your college-age children resent that you took away their opportunity to go “home” for the summer.
76. You can’t remember why anyone would like pineapple from a can, the same for orange juice from concentrate.
77. You understand why the restrooms in LAX have signs saying, “Do not stand on the toilets.”
78. People say, “football,” and you ask, “Which kind?”
79. A friend sends funds to a scammer who sent out an e-mail saying he’s you, stranded abroad, and your friend believes it because, hey, you travel all the time and you’re always needing money.
80. You don’t know what to buy your parents for Christmas now that you can’t give them souvenirs.
81. You shed a tear after finally eating the last package of dried fruit that you brought back with you.
82. You do your happy dance when you find another package of dried fruit in the outside pocket of your carry-on bag a year later.
83. You cringe because you hear someone say she’s “starving to death.”
84. You realize that all the documents on your computer are formatted for A4 paper.
85. You tell your waiter, “I’d like my water with ice . . . if you have any.”
86. You get nervous about buying tickets at the movie theater, because you forgot what the “rules” are.
87. You still can’t drink water straight from the faucet.
88. Your children are happy to see that the US has Costcos, too.
89. You miss the familiar sound of the daily call to prayer . . . or a rooster crowing . . . or late-night traffic . . . or the song the trash truck plays.
90. You show up at a party 2 hours late because you don’t want to be the first one there.
91. You put your favorite DVD in the player and it says, “Region Unsupported.”
92. You understand that some things just take a lot of time.

[top photo: “Electrical Outlet,” by grendelkhan, used under a Creative Commons license; bottom photo: “Having It Both Ways,” by Keith Williamson, used under a Creative Commons license]

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