Reverse Culture Shock: What It Looks Like from Between

If you were to draw a picture of reverse culture shock, what would it look like? What images would you show? What colors would you use?

If you were to make a video, what kind of video would it be?

30a781c45c859eecc26383ae27dc0c2aPhotographer and visual artist Jenna Rutanen was born in Finland, attended university in London, and now is continuing her studies and working in the Netherlands. She has turned her experience in crossing cultures into an art installation, consisting of two videos projected on opposite walls of a room. She calls it “Waiting to Belong,” and here’s how she describes what she is representing:

I am experiencing reverse culture shock during each visit to my home country, Finland. In the past, all the winters that I had spent in some sort of hibernation, would now start to suffocate me because of the darkness. As a child, I spent my time playing in the forests, making tree houses and snow castles but now I can hardly venture going into the forest on my own after being away from it for such a long time. It seems as if I have lost the ability to adapt to the surroundings that I used to belong in and as of yet, I haven’t been able to adapt to my current surroundings either, which has kind of left me stuck between two different worlds. All I can do is wait to belong.

Installation art often seems pretentious to me, and this may strike you that way. You may say, “I could have done that.” You may wonder why Rutanen in her “portrait” is so glum. You may wonder what the big deal is.

But watching the two videos of “Waiting to Belong” is very thought provoking to me, and I think it would be even more interesting if I could stand between them, turning from one to the other.

It’s the anticipation—and tedium—of waiting for something to happen, and (spoiler alert, if you haven’t watched the videos yet) nothing does. That’s one of the things that makes reverse culture shock difficult. It’s the nomad gazing at the horizon, waiting for herself to adapt or for her surroundings to become more accommodating, or waiting for both to re-become what they used to be. And it’s the pale landscape waiting itself, staring back at a daughter who has returned a stranger. It seems to say, “I am what I am. It’s up to you.”

These are frustrating feelings to have. And if you become impatient watching the videos, maybe that’s part of the point.

(Jenna Rutanen, “Artist Statement: Waiting to Belong,” jennarutanen.com)

[illustration from Bechance, at bechance.net, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Let It Flow . . . and Tilt Shift: Take a Look at These Beautiful Timelapse Videos

UK-based filmmaker Rob Whitworth has established himself as a master of hyperlapse video. Regular timelapse photography captures the movement in a scene using a camera that is set in one place or that moves only slightly. Hyperlapse goes beyond this by moving the camera over large distances.

Whitworth’s brand of hyperlapse takes the method one step further by using the camera motion to stitch clips together into a continuous piece. He calls the result “flow motion.” Below are his unique looks at Barcelona, Pyongyang, and Shangai. (For the video of Pyongyang, he and JT Singh were given unprecedented access to the North Korean city, though it is still the view that the government wants to be shown.)

Whitworth tells The Creators Project that Keith Loutit’s Bathtub IV was his inspiration to specialize in timelapse. Loutit uses tilt-shift photography, a technique that results in the illusion of filming a miniature world. Bathtub IV was made with the cooperation of Australia’s Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.

Another of Loutit’s videos shows miniaturized view of Singapore.

Whit worth also tells The Creators Project of his love for the work of Pau Garcia Laita, specifically praising his video showcasing Girona, Spain, part of the same project as Whitworth’s Barcelona piece above.

(Beckett Mufson, “Meet the Filmmaker behind Unreal Hyperlapse Tours of Barcelona and Other Cities,” The Creators Project, July 14, 2014)

What Would You Take to Your New Life in a Refugee Camp?

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When we lived overseas, we were encouraged to make lists of items we would need to grab in case of an evacuation. First there was the list for what to collect if we had only fifteen minutes to leave. Then there were lists for an evacuation in an hour, in 24 hours, and so on.

While a swift departure from our apartment in Taipei was a possibility, it didn’t loom over our heads as it does for many in other countries . . . so we never made a formal list. Rather, we had a cluster of absolutely-most-important-things kept in the same room: my laptop, our passports, extra credit cards, a printout of important contact information, a first-aid kit.

We never tackled listing the irreplaceable items, those with sentimental value. Like writing a will, it was hard to think about and too easy to put off.

If you had to leave your home in a hurry, what would you take? What if you had to escape your country, as well? And what if you knew it would probably be nearly 20 years before you were able to create a new home?

Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, knows a lot about people who flee their homes and about what they lose and what they take with them. She knows a lot because she meets refugees and talks with them.

In her TED Talk, “Let’s Help Refugees Thrive, Not Just Survive,” she tells her motivation for what she does:

So I started working with refugees because I wanted to make a difference, and making a difference starts with telling their stories. So when I meet refugees, I always ask them questions. Who bombed your house? Who killed your son? Did the rest of your family make it out alive? How are you coping in your life in exile? But there’s one question that always seems to me to be most revealing, and that is: What did you take? What was that most important thing that you had to take with you when the bombs were exploding in your town, and the armed gangs were approaching your house?

She then shares the story of Hany, a young Syrian refugee who knew exactly what he would take when his family was forced to flee to Lebanon. “I took my high school diploma,” he said, “because my life depended on it.” He had risked his life in war-torn Syria to earn it, and he saw his education as his hope for the future.

Fleming goes on to tell more stories of refugees and to recount some sobering statistics, including these (I’ve added some additional numbers from “UNHCR: Facts and Figures about Refugees“):

  • The approximately 50 million forcibly displaced people at the end of 2013 is the highest number since World War II.
  • Each day last year, an average of 32,000 more people were forced from their homes.
  • 33 million of the displaced people remain in their own country. 16.7 million flee to other countries, making them refugees.
  • 86% of the world’s refugees are living in the developing world.
  • On average, a refugee will be displaced for 17 years.
  • The war in Syria has produced 6.5 million displaced people, about half its population. More than 3 million of them have entered neighboring countries.
  • Lebanon, a country of 4 million, is home to 1 million Syrian refugees.
  • Half of the Syrian refugees are children, and only 20% of those in Lebanon are in school.

Below is Fleming’s full TED Talk, followed by a video message from Hany, produced by the UNCHR.

The last video is “Lebanon: Through the Eyes of a Refugee,” featuring Hany’s photographs from his participation in the UNHCR workshop Do You See What I See? The two-week class on photography and writing was led by photojournalist Brendan Bannon.

[photo: “TG14_100814_DD5A2115_1920,” by James Duncan Davidson/TED, used under a Creative Commons license]

Language Learning for a Small World and a Big Introduction

Most commercials make me hit the mute button or click “Skip this Ad.” But some I like so much that I search them out on Youtube for a second, third, and fourth look. Here are two of those.

The first one, from Rosetta Stone Language Learning, begins with this: “Imagine the world if everyone learned just one more language. Imagine the stories we’d share.”

The second one, my favorite of the two, is from the American Heart Association. It opens with the words “Hello, Jack. Hello, Jack. I am your grandfather. I waited so long to meet you”—and ends with a nice surprise. (By the way, from what I can tell, the grandfather is learning his English from a Langenscheidt pocket dictionary.)

One Hundred Years Ago: The Christmas Truce

If I had a World War One military cap, I’d use it for a hat tip to the folks at Brigada.org. Thanks to them I got to see this year’s Christmas advertisement for the UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. It was created in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the Christmas Truce, when Allied and German soldiers, nearly five months into the first world war, climbed out of their foxholes and, in the no man’s land between them, found a way to celebrate Christmas together.

The stories of the Christmas Truce of 1914 come from diaries and letters of soldiers on the front lines in Europe. The people who made the Sainsbury’s ad tell about the background for the video in their “Story behind Our Christmas Ad” below, quoting several of the first-hand accounts.

Following are excerpts of what the soldiers wrote a century ago, showing in stark terms how longed for, and how elusive, peace on earth is.

From a letter written by British Rifleman J. Reading to his wife—

I hope you all had a merry Christmas; let me tell you how I spent mine. My company happened to be in the firing line on Christmas eve, and it was my turn—with a non-commissioned officer and four others—to go into a ruined house and remain there until 6.30 on Christmas morning. During the early part of the morning the Germans started singing and shouting, all in good English. They shouted out: “Are you the Rifle Brigade; have you a spare bottle; if so we will come half way and you come the other half.” At 4 a.m part of their Band played some Christmas carols and “God save the King”, and “Home Sweet Home.” You could guess our feelings. Later on in the day they came towards us, and our chaps went out to meet them. Of course neither of us had any rifles. I shook hands with some of them, and they gave us cigarettes and cigars. We did not fire that day, and everything was so quiet that it seemed like a dream. We took advantage of the quiet day and brought our dead in.

(Bucks Examiner, January 8, 1915, quoted in Christmas Truce 1914: Operation Plum Pudding)

From Regimental Sergeant-Major George Beck’s diary—

Not one shot was fired. English and German soldiers intermingled and exchanged souvenirs. Germans very eager to exchange almost anything for our bully beef and jam. Majority of them know French fluently.

Passages from Beck’s diary are being published daily, 100 years after being written, at The diary of Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck, part of the Dorset History Centre site.

(Mark Casci, “Diary of Famous WWI Christmas Truce to Be Published,” The Yorkshire Post, August 17, 2014)

From the diary of German Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch—

Soldier Möckel from my company, who had lived in England for many years, called to the British in English, and soon a lively conversation developed between us. . . . Afterwards, we placed even more candles than before on our kilometre-long trench, as well as Christmas trees. It was the purest illumination—the British expressed their joy through whistles and clapping. Like most people, I spent the whole night awake. It was a wonderful, if somewhat cold, night.

(Michael Jürgs, Der kleine Frieden im Großen Krieg [The Small Peace in the Big War], quoted in English in Luke Harding’s “A Cry of: Waiter! And the Fighting Stopped,” The Guardian, November 11, 2003)

From Fred Langton—

The following incidents will give you an idea of how some of our Tommies spent Christmas Day. The Scots Guards and the Germans opposite, by mutual consent, mixed freely with each other. They exchanged addresses, and promised to write to each other—a typical habit of Tommy’s. Two of the German officers took dinner with our two officers, and before they left arranged to play a football match on New Year Day. Six of the Worcesters had lunch in the German lines, and the same number of Germans had lunch in ours. Before parting, it was arranged that before firing recommenced on either side three volleys should be fired in the air. A week from now these men on both sides will be doing almost unspeakable things in order to kill each other.

(Yorkshire Post, January 2, 1915, quoted in Christmas Truce 1914: Operation Plum Pudding)

And from the Royal Engineers’ Lance-Corporal Henderson—

The alarm went about midnight, and we stood up till daybreak, when we found that our pals of the previous two days had tried to rush our position, but they got cut up as usual, and I believe the next morning the ground where we had been so chummy, and where Germans had wished us a merry Christmas, was now covered with their dead.

(published in The Hampshire Chronicle, January 30, 1915, quoted in Christmas Truce 1914: Operation Plum Pudding)

Watching “The Dialogue”: A Cultural Bumper-Car Ride

15946836_a846e28a57_zCulture Shock.

“It’s like you’re driving in a car,” says one of the students in The Dialogue, “and the gas and the brakes switch.”

The Dialogue is German director Arnd Wächter’s feature documentary that follows eight college students traveling to Hong Kong and southwest China. As they interact with the world around them and interact with each other, they explore cultural differences and the way we communicate about those differences.

The students make up a rather diverse group: males, females, Americans seeing China for the first time, Chinese returning home, whites, an African American, and an Asian raised in the US . . . and their viewpoints are varied as well.

I got to watch The Dialogue at a screening held at the San Diego NAFSA conference in May. It was a great conference, and seeing the documentary and taking part in the discussion with Wachter afterward was a highlight for me.

My experience watching the film was—to borrow the student’s words—like driving in a car. But for me it was a bumper car. At several times throughout the documentary, I would identify with one of the students, but then something would happen to change my view: I look like him, but I don’t agree with what he just said. I agree with her, but then she went too far. I share her background, but what he said makes more sense. I identify with him, but I don’t think he’d identify with me.

My point of view kept bouncing from person to person, even country to country. It was jarring, but enjoyable. Thus the bumper-car ride. I liked the way it challenged me to think beyond stereotypes and easy answers. And that, getting viewers to think, is what Wachter’s Crossing Border Films and Michigan State University had in mind when they made the film. It’s what would make The Dialogue a great tool for cross-cultural training exercises.

The key to the documentary is the frank conversations that the students have on camera. And the key to these conversations is the work of facilitator Ana Rhodes Castro. She led the students through behind-the-scenes activities and debriefings that encouraged them to express their true feelings and talk about root issues. The result is on-camera interactions that get straight to the point and reveal topics and opinions that are normally skirted in everyday life.

Particularly interesting are discussions of how individual personalities, non-verbal communication, surroundings, and language affect how we offer and receive viewpoints. How often does the way people present themselves affect how we judge what they say? How do our expectations for non-verbal cues differ from culture to culture? Does the fact that the film’s discussions take place in China give the Chinese a disadvantage? And does using English as the mode of communication give an advantage to the native speakers?

There’s a partner education site at National Geographic that addresses these issues using clips from The Dialogue. The site also includes questions for discussion and additional resources for use in the classroom.

The Dialogue, along with two other Wachter productions, is part of a trilogy of cross-cultural films. The others are Crossing Borders, which follows the same model as The Dialogue, but this time with four Moroccan and four American students traveling to Morocco, and American Textures, which listens in on the discussions of six young Americans—Latino, Caucasian, and African-American—as they travel to three cities in the southeast United States and talk about race, class, and culture.

[photo: “Bumper Cars,” by Bill Frazzetto, used under a Creative Commons license]

When I Was Eleven . . . No One Made a Movie about Me

6878794757_82b564e1a2_mWhen I was eleven . . . no one made a movie about me.

The same cannot be said of Jiter, Goh, Siham, Giorgi, Jack, Oliver, Billy, Obey, Remya, Rika, Vandana, Priya, Dagan, Sree Kutty, Sam, Sahin, Luca, Fang, Osama, Kim, Grace, and Sharif. They are the subjects of a documentary, filmed over a period of six years by Australian Genevieve Bailey, called I Am Eleven.  The children, all (of course) eleven years old, are from India, Thailand, Morocco, France, Bulgaria, England, the US, Australia, Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, China, and the Czech Republic.

When I was eleven . . . I was trying to figure out the world. And I’d guess that the words that came out of my mouth were sometimes ridiculous and sometimes profound.

Sounds like these kids.

What about when you were eleven? Let everybody know at wheniwaseleven.com.

[photo: “Aluminium Tag Bingo Number 11,” by Leo Reynolds, used under a Creative Commons license]

Mercy Ships, a TCK, Ex-Missionaries, and Small Clubs

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“We’re part of a small club.” That’s what a friend told me not long ago.

I was at a meeting where a young missionary couple had just finished presenting why they had left their ministry and had come back to the States. A former missionary myself, I made my way to the husband to thank him for sharing. Then my friend and his wife joined us. They had returned from the mission field, too. My friend said with a sigh, “We’re part of a small club.”

It is a small club. And when you’ve come back well before you thought you would, when you didn’t come back celebrating a finished work or returning to a greater ministry, when you’re still in the process of refinding your place back home, it’s a club that can feel smaller than it really is.

A few days later, I read an article in Christianity Today about a still smaller club. It’s a club  that currently has just one member. Her name is Carys Parker.

Carys is a TCK and an MK. And she’s the only person to have been raised on a Mercy Ship from birth through high school graduation. Spun off from Youth With a Mission (YWAM),  Mercy Ships is a Christian ministry providing free health care in port cities around the world—mostly in Africa—from the decks of its floating hospital.

Carys is the daughter of Gary Parker, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, and Susan Parker, an executive assistant. The couple met while working with Mercy Ships in 1987. Carys lived on the ship Anastasis until she was 12 years old, then moved with her family, including a younger brother, Wesley, to the Africa Mercy.

At the graduation ceremony for Mercy Ships Academy last year, Carys and her two classmates, aboard their home docked at Conakry, Guinea, addressed the audience. Carys began her speech,

I grew up here.  And without a doubt, my 18 years on a hospital ship in Africa will define me—even when I no longer live here. For just as every person’s worldview develops out of their unique set of experiences, living in this place, with all of you, has profoundly formed and shaped me.  And I am deeply grateful for a lifetime in this community.

And she ended with these words:

There’s an ancient African proverb that says this: “If you want to travel fast travel alone; But if you want to travel far, travel together.” I’m glad that we’ve traveled this road together.  I’m so grateful for you—as well as many former crew, who have passed through my life and now have gone on to other things.  By God’s grace, may I always be faithful to keep the main thing the main thing. Thank you.

Carys is now beginning her second year at Whitworth, a private liberal arts university. About the decision for Carys to attend the Presbyterian-church-affiliated school, Susan told Whitworth University News, “We come from a small shipboard community, and we know that the quality of the community is directly related to the quality of the product—whether that be healthcare or education.”

According to Whitworth University, their community is a campus located in Spokane, Washington, with 3,000 students . . . one of whom grew up on a boat off the coast of Africa, with 400 crew members representing more than 35 countries.

The Whitworth article includes links to segments from a 60 Minutes show that aired last year. The first is a 12-minute spot on Africa Mercy and the inspiring work done by Mercy Ships in Togo, West Africa. The second is a closer look at the Parker family, part of 60 Minutes Overtime.

Reporter Scott Pelley spends considerable time with Gary Parker and his family, and we hear about the staff’s amazing medical ministry as well as what it’s like raising a family in a 630-square-foot ship’s cabin. “The only life the kids have known has made them strangers back home,” he says, and Susan Parker tells TCK stories about her children: In the States, Carys didn’t know what a mailbox looked like, and Wesley (a white child in a white family) came back from school one day to tell his mother that in the past Americans had made slaves out of “our people.” Producer Henry Schuster describes Carys’s life in a way that would be familiar to Third Culture Kids: “She’s got one foot in America. She’s got one foot in Africa. But she’s in this other place in between.”

Living on a ship, of course, has its tensions and difficulties. “It’s not all sweetness and light,” Pelley reports, noting that Susan has not always wanted to raise her children onboard long term. But now, she believes that a ship is the best place for her and Gary to bring up their children, and she no longer wants to return to the States. “There’s nothing wrong with living at home,” she says, “but I don’t think it’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Pelley calls the ship “a tribe unto itself.” That’s a term I’ve heard—tribe—used to describe those who are or have been missionaries. I count myself a member of that tribe. I’ve never been part of a hospital ship, but I know the camaraderie and  purposefulness of being part of a mission community.

The 60 Minutes segments tug at my heart. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out “what we’re supposed to do.” Sometimes it’s not easy at all. We think, we pray, we talk, we argue, we worry, we wonder, we decide . . . and then we stay or we go.

Hearing Carys and her family’s story helps me better appreciate my club, my tribe. But I understand that I’m now here, raising my kids here. And that means I’m no longer part of a more exclusive club, those who are still there.

(Kate Tracy, “Carys Parker, Raised Entirely aboard Mercy Ships, Drops Anchor,” Christianity Today, July 8, 2014; Carys Parker, “Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing,” doingmercy, May 24, 2013; “Student Disembarks at Whitworth after Life at Sea,” October 16, 2013; “Africa Mercy: Hospital of Hope,” 60 Mintues, CBS, February 17, 2013; “Raising Kids at Sea: Meet the Parkers,” 60 Minutes Overtime, CBS, August 4, 2013)

[photo: “Africa Mercy,” by Denise Miller, used under a Creative Commons license]