February 5, 2018 § 1 Comment
A few days ago, I heard a new-to-me song on the radio on my drive home from work. As the kids on American Bandstand were wont to say, “It’s got a good beat and it’s easy to dance to” (and by “dance” I mean “tap my foot”). I liked it so well that I found it on Youtube when I got home and it’s now a standard on my playlist (and by “playlist” I mean I’ve been listening to it over and over again).
The song is “No Roots,” written and performed by Alice Merton, and the part that caught my attention was the chorus, with its, appropriately enough, “I’ve got not roo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oots! I’ve got no roo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oots!”
I figured that could mean all sorts of things but thought it sounded kind of Third-Culture-Kid-ish. Sure enough, an internet search told me that Merton’s led a life of international relocation, moving 11 (or 12) times in her 24 years. Born in Frankfort, Germany, she moved to Connecticut, with her German mother and Irish father, when she was three months old. The family later moved to Canada, and when Merton was 13, they returned to Germany—where she learned German and attended high school—followed by another move, to England. Later, on her own, she was back in Germany again, where she earned a bachelor’s degree at the Popakademie (University of Popular Music and Music Business) Baden-Württemberg. (I’m piecing this together from bios and interviews, so I apologize if the details are off. The point is, she’s moved around a lot.)
“No Roots” has done its share of globe trotting, as well, with Billboard reporting that as of August of last year, it had climbed the top-ten charts in Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, and Switzerland. And now it’s crossed the ocean to take on the pop charts in the US, hitting number-one on Billboard‘s Adult Alternative Songs airplay ranking in December.
Merton may not call herself a TCK—or an Adult TCK—but she certainly speaks the language. The lyrics for “No Roots” include
I built a home and wait for someone to tear it down
Then pack it up in boxes, head for the next town running
I like standing still, but that’s just a wishful plan
Ask me where I come from, I’ll say a different land
with the refrain
And a thousand times I’ve seen this road
A thousand times . . .
I’ve got no roots, but my home was never on the ground
Merton wrote her first song, “Lighthouse,” when she was a 16-year-old student in Germany. She tells Billboard that the song was born out of her homesickness. “I just didn’t feel at home in Germany at all in the beginning,” she says. “That’s why I kept on searching for this lighthouse, I guess, which would take me back to Canada.”
Years later, her nomadic life once again provided inspiration, resulting in “No Roots.” Again to Billboard, she says,
I was on the beach, and I was just thinking to myself that I have no one place where I actually feel like I’m at home. I came up with the idea of having no roots—never being grounded to a certain place, but having your home with people who you love.
Talking with Tolga Akar, in an interview for a German radio station, she says that writing “No Roots” was helpful in processing her global transitions:
Once I’ve written a song I know how I feel about something. So this whole no roots topic was this topic that was just swimming around in my head, ‘cause I just felt like I just wasn’t at home anywhere. So I guess it’s kind of like therapy, because I only really knew how I felt about not having a home after I wrote that song.
But the therapeutic effect isn’t only in the creation of the song, for Merton, it’s also in the singing. Riff Magazine asks why her feelings of rootlessness didn’t lead to a “sad ballad.” She replies,
Before I went into the studio, I knew I wanted this song to be up-tempo. This topic at the time wasn’t a happy topic for me because I felt quite lost, but I didn’t want to look back at this song and feel sad while singing it, because I needed something that reminded me that it’s OK not to feel at home in one specific place. I knew that I wanted a hooligan-like choir to chant “roots,” so that it would feel even more uplifting.
If you’re a TCK, or anyone lost and rootless, let “No Roots” remind you “that it’s OK not to feel at home in one specific place.” Sing along with Alice Merton. She’s got the words and the tune.
Or if it’s more your style, you can join the hooligan choir and holler out “Roots!”—with passion—every time it comes around.
(Kevin Rutherford, “Alice Merton Puts Down ‘Roots’ at No. 1 on Adult Alternative Songs,” Billboard, December 20, 2017; Tatiana Cirisano, “Alice Merton’s Wanderlust Anthem ‘No Roots’ Heads to U.S. After Blowing Up in Europe,” Billboard, August 22, 2017; Tolga Akar, “Interview Alice Merton: Scandalous Pics and Real Roots!” Der Beat Von Berlin KISS FM, June 27, 2017; Roman Gokhman, “Q&A: Nomad Alice Merton Raises Anchor, Drops ‘Roots,’” RIFF Magazine, November 20, 2017)
March 29, 2016 § 2 Comments
I know of a man who has an airport ministry. All day long he tells traveller’s that The End Is Near. You’d think that the authorities would silence him, but not only is he tolerated, he’s openly encouraged. In fact, airport officials around the world let him use their PA systems.
Of course, “The End” that Jack Fox is talking about isn’t the Second Coming. It’s a much more mundane finale. Close you’re eyes and imagine a voice saying, “Caution. The moving walkway is ending.” That’s him. Jack’s is the calm, helpful voice behind the announcements in hundreds of airports across the globe.
Why do I call it a ministry? Because Jack does. When he prepares for a recording session, he tells The Verge, “I picture someone standing on a moving sidewalk and I’m talking to that person with a friendly quality to my voice, so it won’t be so cold and sterile.” And then he adds, “My father was a minister, and I think of this as my airport ministry.”
Fox is not alone in his airport exhortations. His good friend, Carolyn Hopkins, has been lending her voice to announcements even longer than he has. Both work for Louisville’s Innovative Electronic Designs (IED), which supplies computerized paging systems for airports and other transit systems the world over. The Verge article describes them as “two cheerful, church-going retirees who also happen to be longtime buddies.”
Like Fox, Hopkins started in radio before joining IED, and like Fox, she was influenced in her career by a parent: “I got into it because my father had a magnificent, deep voice,” she tells the Bangor Daily News (she lives in Maine, now). “I loved to listen to it, so I liked doing that kind of thing. I would practice. I would create radio programs, with intros and segues. I did voices. It was a lot of fun.”
Below is an audio clip of Fox from his interview with The Verge. I couldn’t find him in a video that I could embed, but if you’d like to see the face behind the voice, there’s a news clip featuring him from WDRB in Louisville. The first video below is a “CBS This Morning” story on Hopkins.
Now that I know who these two are, I’m going to appreciate their suggestions more the next time I’m thinking about parking in the unloading zone.
Jack Fox and Carolyn Hopkins:two of the best-known yet least recognized people in the world . . . kind of like these two:
(Lesley Anderson, “The Speakers: How Two People Became the Voice of 110 Airports and the NYC Subway,” The Verge, July 18, 2013; Abigail Curtis, “From a Tiny Studio in Maine, Her Voice Is Heard around the World,” January 11, 2016)
June 6, 2014 § 4 Comments
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
My search also led me to a blog post written by Sichel, who, along with Eidse, also edited Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global—a 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)
December 20, 2013 § 3 Comments
It’s not easy being shortlisted for the Academy Awards, but that’s what Rahul Gandotra did in 2011 with his live-action short film, The Road Home.
A Hidden-Immigrant Story
Gandotra was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and grew up in eight countries, spending time in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the US. He attended the University of Michigan and then got an MA in film directing from The London Film School. For his master’s thesis, he returned to Woodstock, a boarding school in the Himalayas, to shoot The Road Home. When Gandotra attended school there in the 10th grade, his class of 52 had students from 26 countries.
The Road Home tells the story of Pico, a Woodstock student who runs away from the school, hoping to get to the airport and return to London. Pico looks Indian on the outside, but on the inside, he is British. He doesn’t speak Hindi, and the culture is foreign to him. He is a “hidden immigrant” who desperately wants to escape this assault on his identity.
In an interview with Jedda Blog, Gandotra says that while he was filming in India, he was introduced to David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken’s book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds. “That book described me really well,” he says.
I realized these are the type of people I am making the film for and that this film is for anyone who questions where they are from, at any time of their life. Any one who has had an outsider experience or has left their country can relate to this movie.
Later, when Van Reken previewed The Road Home, she wrote the following on the film’s IMDb site:
Just three weeks ago, I watched as two people watched this with tears of both joy and sadness streamed down their faces. Joy that what they had felt but been unable to articulate for their whole lives was finally given voice. Sadness as they identified so deeply with the pain Pico feels when others assume who he is by outward appearance rather than by his life experiences.
They also understood only too well how the frustration Pico felt of not being known by other [sic] as he knows himself to be and how that frustration comes out in a way others see as anger instead of pain. . . .
Best of all, The Road Home reminds us of one of the most fundamental truths for our globalizing world: until we know each person’s story, we cannot make judgments of who that person is regardless of skin color or apparent ethnicity. That’s why this film is so needed and important.
Watch The Road Home for Free
At the film’s website, you can enter your email address to receive a “sampler” packet of commentaries, interviews, web resources, and—best of all—a link to watch the entire 23-minute film online.
In Gandotra’s “Welcome” clip, he tells how Van Reken was instrumental in getting the packet put together. When he sent the video to her, he was, he says, “floored and shocked by what she said.” She wanted him to put the film on DVD so everyone could see it, and even though he was busy with the film-festival circuit she persisted. “She felt,” he says, “that she had the right to literally push and harass me into making this DVD. . . .”
He demurred, but it did no good. On her own, Van Reken recruited people from around the world who created a set of resources for the sampler packet. The final result is the full professional version of the DVD (available for purchase here).
One of the highlights of the packet is a 5-minute commentary on the film, with Van Reken, Gandotra, and Third Culture Kid expert Heidi Tunberg talking about TCKs. The professional DVD includes an additional 92 minutes of commentary.
Gandotra is currently working on a feature-lengh film based on the story of The Road Home, calling it a “a coming-of-age, adventure road movie.” In the new version, Pico runs away from Woodstock with Rachel, an American female classmate. The two come to the attention of a terrorist organization that wants to kidnap them. As they are pursued across India, Rachel discovers the nation, while Pico discovers his own identity.
Gandotra’s “Feature Preview” page says, “Although the feature script is faster paced than the short, it stays true to the ‘flavor’ and themes of the original film.” I look forward to hearing more about this longer version, and I hope to see it someday.
I also hope that amid the chase scenes it does, in fact, hold on to The Road Home‘s poignant insights. Because it is Pico’s inner journey—as he tries to reach the airport—that brings the most power to his search for home.
(Emily Rome, “Oscar Shorts: An Autobiographical Journey in ‘The Road Home,'” Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2012; Zareen Muzaffar, “The Road Home. An Exclusive Interview with Director and Film-maker Rahyl Gandotra,” Jedda Blog, October 2013; )
[photo courtesy of The Road Home / Rahul Gandotra]
November 8, 2012 § 2 Comments
I’m a fan of the writings of Henri Nouwen. Before his death in 1996, the Holland-born author and theologian served as a Catholic priest; taught at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, and at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard; worked with Trappist monks in New York’s Abbey of the Genesee; lived with the poor in Peru; and became pastor at a L’Arche community for the mentally disabled in Canada. Along the way, he wrote over 40 books.
One of the hallmarks of Nouwen’s works is his honest sharing of his personal struggles. This is probably nowhere more apparent than in his Inner Voice of Love, originally a series of “secret journal” entries written during a period of deep depression. In the introduction to the book, Nouwen writes that it was only at the urging of friends that he decided to have The Inner Voice of Love published.
In the book’s pages, Nouwen touches on themes that strike chords with many cross-cultural children and adults, global nomads, and others who are physical or spiritual “strangers in a strange land”—with those who are looking for a community and home to call their own. In fact, it was shortly after he joined the community of L’Arche, what he called his “true home,” that Nouwen was faced with his depression. “Just when I had found a home,” he writes, “I felt absolutely homeless. . . . It was if the house I had finally found had no floors.”
Over the course of the next six months, Nouwen moved from agony “to a new inner freedom, a new hope, and a new creativity.” Following are some of the “spiritual imperatives” that Nouwen wrote to himself during this journey, as he sought the path home:
Coming Home and Trusting Your Heart
Sometimes people who do not know your heart will altogether miss the importance of something that is part of your deepest self, precious in your eyes as well as God’s. They might not know you well enough to be able to respond to your genuine needs. It is then that you have to speak your heart and follow your own deepest calling.
There is a part of you that too easily gives in to others’ influence. As soon as someone questions your motives, you start doubting yourself. You end up agreeing with the other before you have consulted your own heart. Thus you grow passive and simply assume that the other knows better.
Here you have to be very attentive to your inner self. “Coming home” and “being given back to yourself” are expressions that indicate that you have a solid inner base from which you can speak and act—without apologies—humbly but convincingly.
Sharing Your Pain as a Fellow Traveler
You wonder whether it is good to share your struggles with others, especially with those to whom you are called to minister. you find it hard not to mention your own pains and sorrows to those you are trying to help. You feel that what belongs to the core of your humanity should not be hidden. You want to be a fellow traveler, not a distant guide.
The main question is “Do you own your pain?” As long as you do not own your pain—that is, integrate your pain into your way of being in the world—the danger exists that you will use the other to seek healing for yourself. . . .
But when you fully own your pain and do not expect those to whom you minister to alleviate it, you can speak about true freedom. Then sharing your struggle can become a service; then your openness about yourself can offer courage and hope to others.
For you to be able to share your struggle as a service, it is also essential to have people to whom you can go with your own needs. You will always need safe people to whom you can pour out your heart.
You Are Welcome Here
Not being welcome is your greatest fear. . . . It is the deepseated fear that it would have been better if you had not lived.
Everything Jesus is saying to you can be summarized in the words “Know that you are welcome.” Jesus offers you his own most intimate life with the Father. He wants you to know all he knows and to do all he does. He wants his home to be yours. Yes, he wants to prepare a place for you in his Father’s house.
Keep reminding yourself that your feelings of being unwelcome do not come from God and do not tell the truth. The Prince of Darkness wants you to believe that your life is a mistake and that there is no home for you. But every time you allow these thoughts to affect you, you set out on the road to self-destruction. So you have to keep unmasking the lie and think, speak, and act according to the truth that you are very, very welcome.
(Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom, New York: Doubleday, 1996)
June 18, 2012 § 15 Comments
Back in the States after being gone for a long time,
in the cereal aisle at Wal-Mart.
My list says “bran cereal” with no instructions
on how to pick out the right kind.
I tell the kids to quiet down
and remind them
that “everybody here knows English
so they can understand everything you say
A friend turns the corner and sees us: “Hey!
Long time no see.
Didn’t know you were back.
Look at you.
A little grey around the edges,
but not too bad.
Bet you’re glad to be
He’s describing me like you’d describe a used book:
Slight shelf wear.
Dust jacket missing.
Discoloration on edge of spine.
A few underlined passages and extensive notes in margins.
We chat about
how big the kids look and about
the new high school being built,
and then he says again,
“Bet you’re glad to be home.”
This time I respond with “Well,
both places have their advantages.”
My daughter shows me a box of
off-brand Fruit Loops,
raising her eyebrows like two question marks.
I shrug my shoulders and she puts it in the
That is the way I feel,
like a used
But deep inside, I’d rather
be a manuscript.
Like one of those manuscripts
that’s been sent to
44 publishers and rejected
Then the author’s wife sees it
in the trash folder
on the computer and sends it
in for one last try.
It’s picked up
and becomes a bestseller,
and it’s made into a movie
that wins two or
three Academy Awards.
That’s what I’d like to be, now
that I’m starting over
with this new life
in a new place that everybody says is
May 17, 2012 § 4 Comments
The first video below is one I’ve seen posted recently on a couple TCK blogs. It was made by a student at Georgetown University. Really well done. Then when I went to its Vimeo site, I read the comments section and saw links to the three others here. Some have been around for a while, but they’re all new to me. Enjoy:
So Where’s Home? A Film about Third Culture Kid Identity, Adrian Bautista
A short documentary that “explores the unique perspectives and identities of Third Culture Kids, people who have spent a significant portion of their childhood overseas.”
Teaser for Neither Here nor There, Ema Ryan Yamazaki
This teaser introduces a 35-minute documentary, also by a college student, that “investigates the often overlooked effects on adults who had international upbringings, their struggles to fit in and an eternal search to belong.” The full video is available for purchase here.
Trailer for Les Passagers: A TCK Story, Aga Magdolen
This trailer is for a documentary “about Third Culture Kids and their journey to find where they belong.”
Thoughts on Traveling, Sanii Fiina
By another university student, this is kind of a visual, multi-language poem. It’s an “idea based on identity and how different languages can create one nationality… or something like that!”