Category Archives: Global Nomad

Frozen Grief: Why it Matters to Global Nomads

I was not aware of the concept of frozen grief until I stumbled across an article by Marilyn Gardner of Communicating Across Boundaries. All of a sudden pieces of the puzzle started falling into place.

Yes, this is what is happening.

The Frozen Sadness of Ambiguous Loss explains how the grief process is arrested when we don’t even realize we need to grieve.

Ambiguous loss is a psychological term meant to apply to those losing loved ones to Alzheimer’s or those with an absent father who might reappear at any time.

Marilyn makes the point, and I wholeheartedly agree, that this is what Third Culture Kids deal with.  The very fact that the losses are not recognized and acknowledged causes the grief process to be frozen.

The ambiguous loss is an important piece to the puzzle.

It’s hard to put a finger on what is lost when a TCK (or any global nomad) moves from one life to another.

I think loss of identity is one of the key factors.

Maybe being a white face surrounded by dark ones.  Maybe the status that comes with having more or knowing more than the people in your circles.  Maybe the respect that comes with a certain level of achievement. Maybe the loss of a position or job that defines us.

Of course, there’s the loss of good friendships and the positive memories. That’s something that needs to be grieved. How do you memorialize that? How do you thank people for what they’ve done for you?

That doesn’t take into account the food. And the rituals and the traditions which were meaningful but are not supported by a new culture.

It’s all very ambiguous.

Just having a name for it validates me. Lets me know I’m not alone. Isn’t that what community is all about? Knowing that we’re not alone?

I remember the first time I read about phone phobia in The Introvert Advantage.  It was so exciting to discover that other introverts felt the same way I did about phone calls.  I wasn’t defective.  I was part of a group.  My tendency had a name.  Other people were like me.

I wasn’t alone.

The frozen grief of ambiguous loss isn’t a cheery subject.  Maybe even a little disheartening.  But, a successful cure is more likely after a good diagnosis.

The fact that it has a name is encouraging.

It means I am not alone.

And it means you are not alone.

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3 Ways Global Nomads Find Community

One of the greatest challenges for gobal nomads is finding community.

Connecting with others is difficult for the nomad because not everyone understands his life. Finding kindred spirits takes more effort and probably isn’t the person living next door.

Another factor is the taste of community that the nomad has already experienced. He’s trying to replicate that in another context and finds it doesn’t work.

There’s also the matter of personal identity. With which culture does he most identify? Where’s his tribe? If he’s a fish out of water, where can he find some water?

(note: this post contains affiliate links. At no extra charge to you, a percentage of your purchase goes to support this site.)

There are three ways to face this challenge.

1. Embrace Imperfect Communities Right Where You Are

Geography is a critical factor.

It’s natural to cling to a community that grew in another part of the world. With Sykpe, Facebook, What’s App and internet phones it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with people all over the planet.

Technology is amazing, except when it keeps you from connecting to people where you actually live.

The community that you plug into in the new place will not measure up. Push yourself to do it anyway.

2. Re-connect With Former Tribes

Reunions are important.

When you’ve logged a significant portion of your life with a tribe, it’s good to re-connect and catch up.

Last week, we went to the funeral of a mentor from a decade ago.  We shared a meal with former colleagues.  Because our lives intertwined so closely with these people in the past, years of separation melted away.

The same thing happened at a wedding in May.

Doing life with these people has marked us indelibly.

We need to touch base or we lose a part of who we are.

3. Create Your Own Culture

Establish traditions, celebrate holidays, eat the ethnic foods.

Marry someone who sees the value in preserving observances and ritual.

Create a family culture that incorporates  world cultures.

Influence churches, clubs and schools to reflect values and traditions you want to perpetuate.

Of course, these efforts are fluid. They will only last for a season if someone else doesn’t pick them up and carry them on.

But, the encouraging fact remains that the nomad isn’t doomed to a lifelong search for community: he can create it.

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The best book I’ve read this year about globe-trotting and the search for belonging is Tsh Oxenreider’s book At Home in the World.  Tsh and her husband took their three children and circled the globe. The book traces their journey as well as Tsh’s reflections on travel, life and personal growth.

  Buy now from Amazon

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Five Minute Friday: Place

It’s  Friday!  This has been a stressful week.  Glad to make it to Friday.

Linking up again with Kate Motaung and the FMF crew, writing for five minutes prompted by a word.

This week’s prompt is place.

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Where is my place in this world?

The question needs to be answered by everyone, but it gets trickier for global nomads.

That longing for belonging feels harder to satisfy when you’ve already lived several different versions of yourself.

What is the essence of belonging?

I believe it is living in community.

And, to me, the essence of community is connection.

So, now, the question remains– how do I connect to others in community to find my place of belonging?

The way to do that is to search for kindred spirits and create connection, community and culture with them.

Sound like a tall order?

Maybe.

Or maybe you could just call it an retreat or reunion. That feels doable.

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The Ties That Bind: Understanding the MK Connection

mkconnection

A classmate of mine is no longer walking this earth.

I feel the loss deeply.

I wonder for the umpteenth time why the bonds between third culture kids are so strong.  After all, it’s been decades since we shared a campus.  Only a small fraction of my life was spent building friendships in that arena.  And, yet, the impact is inexplicably profound.

I’ve pondered it again this week as I have before.   But, this time, I’ve come to some new conclusions.

The pyschological explanation is that we all met during impressionable, vulnerable years when our identities were in formation. We all experienced two or more cultures and were trying to decide which culture we personally identified with.  “Who am I?”  just became more complicated.  And here we are surrounded by a group facing this same challenge.

Most of us were not living in our passport country and far from extended family.  Into that vacuum emerges a third culture.  A group of expats on the same journey.  Kindred spirits who knew what it was like to be transplanted.  To be dropped into an island of English speakers surrounded by foreign languages, food and ways.  In this context, we struggle to answer the questions: Who am I?  Which culture will I choose?  Who are my people? Where is my tribe?  Where do I belong and how do I get there?

Those same fundamental questions we were all facing and answering, mostly oblivious to the process, but mindful that we were not alone.

The spiritual explanation took me by surprise.  I woke up one morning with verses from Mark 10 on my mind.  “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel, who will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age  (houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields– and with them  persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.”

The bonds are strong, the connection is deep because Jesus promised to provide family to those who had given up family.  He hard-wired the bonds to be stronger than passing friendships.  Many in that expat community were missionaries.  They had made sacrifices for the sake of the gospel.  Jesus promised to recompense those sacrifices.  Not only in the life to come, but in this life as well.  Inexplicable.

Related posts:

When Your Family Tree is Grafted

The Itch I Couldn’t Reach

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When Your Family Tree is Grafted

graftedfamilyappletree

For sixteen years, my husband and I with our kids were ex-pats assigned to Mexico.  One of the interesting things about living as foreigners in another country is your relationship with other ex-pats.  It hit home this week when were catching up with a former co-worker from those days and I heard my kids call him “Uncle”.  It was common in our ex-pat community for the kids to call the other adults Aunt and Uncle.

But it gave me pause, thinking about those unusual relationships. My kids have great relationships with their blood relatives.  Their grandparents, aunts and uncles are encouraging and supportive in tangible ways.  So, I’m a little stymied to put my finger on what makes these relationships unique.

Maybe the critical element is being geographically far away from your extended family.  So these Aunts and Uncles step into the vacuum.  It fills that need for the family connections that go unmet for months or years at a time.  But, there also exists an element of choice.  You can choose who to get together with for Christmas dinner or the Super Bowl. You can choose who comes to the kids’ birthday parties and who you ask to help you move.  Back in your hometown, you know who your relatives are.  You know how the pecking order plays out.  There’s a clear distinction between friends and family.  There’s no blurring of the lines.

Away from home, the line between friends and family gets blurred.

I’m grateful for the people that stepped into the extended family gap that was created by the logistics of geography.  Our lives are richer because of it.

 

 

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Food is Culture

foodisculture

When Pete and I went to Mexico three years ago with our ministry team, we were inhaling tamales, atole, tacos arabes– eating everytime we turned a corner. One of the main purposes of the trip was to learn the culture, but we were doing so much eating that my husband coined the phrase “food is culture”.

ceviche

When we were in Peru earlier this month, we got to try Ceviche for the first time.  Ceviche is raw fish marinated in lemon juice till it “cooks”.  It sounds strange, but actually tastes good.  It’s often served with Yucca, which is very much like a potato in taste and texture.

trujilloperu

Another culinary first for us in Peru. I can’t remember what these were called, but picture ground meat wrapped in mashed potatoes and deep fried.  Yum.  Also, deep fried donut thingies. Yep that’s technical.

tacosarabes

On our way back from Peru, we spent a couple of days in Mexico, and were able to experience some more “culture”.

Tacos Arabes are made from meat cooked on an upright spit and then shaved off.

tacomeat

On the table.

tacos

And ready to eat.

tamal

That is the pinkest tamale I’ve ever seen in my life.  It was also one of the best–sweet with a great flavor.

I’m fascinated thinking about what it takes to build a culture:  tradition, ritual, expectations, norms, celebration, punishment.   We are born into a culture and we adopt it or reject it, surrounded by others adopting and rejecting.

But, then, we reach a point when we become the culture shapers.  We lay foundations and sculpt a family culture.  We shape the culture of our churches, schools and organizations.  We decide, “This is how we do it here.  We will establish our traditions, rituals, expectations, norms, celebrations and punishments.”

And food is interwoven into it all.  Some traditional foods are associated with celebration.  In our church we eat tamales on Easter Sunday morning.

In our family, we have a few favorite recipes for special occasions.  I’d like to be more intentional about preserving and passing on those recipes, those traditions, those memories.  Because, essentially, we’re passing on culture.  We are the culture shapers.

What culinary traditions do you have that shape your family culture?

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The Itch I Couldn’t Reach

subtle shift

Something strange happened on our trip to Peru.  Like an itch you can’t quite reach or the name just out of reach of conscious memory, I couldn’t figure it out.

On our first layover after leaving Chicago, the plane bumped onto the runway in San Salvador.  I looked out of the window and saw palm trees.  I felt something I couldn’t identify: just a twinge;  a small whisper.

After puzzling about it for days, I figured it out: there was a subtle shift in my spirit and my international alter ego awoke.

I know there are palm trees in Florida.  I know there are palm trees in California.  (We lived in Southern California as newlyweds, but in a Hispanic neighborhood– so almost international.)

But, something about seeing those palm trees connected with the memories of living in the Philippines as a teenager and the memories of living in Mexico as an adult.

Something about seeing those palm trees said, “We’re not in Indiana any more.”  Time to shift to your Latin personality.  (Which isn’t necessarily the best version of myself, I might add.)

I have trouble expressing myself in Spanish.  To be embarrassingly frank, I have trouble expressing myself verbally in any language.  (Okay, in English.  It’s not like I speak a lot of languages.)

Did you know your personality changes in another culture?  Okay, all your basic tendencies remain the same.  But, a different environment will bring out or suppress some of the ways you are naturally wired.  This has been a slow realization.  But, being a Psych geek, it’s one that fascinates me.

Anyway, ever since that experience of looking out of the plane window in San Salvador, I’ve been trying to figure out why I had that strange twinge in my soul.  Mystery solved.  Elementary, my dear Watson.

What’s your latest light bulb moment about yourself?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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