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Some things change… and some things stay the same

 - 20 Years of diverse mobile lives

In March the Families in Global Transition conference was held in The Hague.  It was a celebration of 20 Years - a chance to look back at the beginnings of FIGT, to look at where we are today and reflect on where we want to go.



The speakers and presenters reviewed the past, considered problems and envisaged the future.  It struck me, from a Global Mobility perspective – when it comes to supporting families in global transition -  some things have massively changed and some things remain the same.

What has changed? 

Robin Pascoe, journalist, author, and keynoter, identified the significant changes caused by the digital advances.  When she wrote her first book, (and my family were just beginning our assignment in China) the internet was limited.  Moving countries meant slow communication and limited connection with families and old friends.  It often meant isolation from professional groups and learning opportunities. 

Now digital connection means grandma can read a bedtime story to her grandchild despite being thousands of miles apart.  Partners who have left their careers can keep connected to professional organisations, complete further studies, set up new businesses and be encouraged and supported by old friends wherever they may be. One of the most popular sessions at the conference highlighted the opportunities for digital entrepreneurs. Connections in new locations can be made easily through on-line groups which meet up in real life.  Or virtual groups with similar interests can support and nurture each other across the globe.

Connection to on-line services are also bringing opportunities and understanding to the globally mobile experience. When Robin set up her website, she was one of only hundreds on the internet, now a google search for expat support reveals 493,000 results.  Content about the global experience and about destinations is more accessible. 

And yet – I have to ask; does that proliferation of on-line content make the experience of a global transition easier?  Does it increase understanding of other cultures? Does it enhance our global mindset?  

What has stayed the same? 

 One of the things that remains a constant is that living in another culture is a life changing experience. Relationships, skills, values and perspectives – everything changes and that process can be challenging and painful. One of the amazing things about FIGT and the conference experience is sharing how that experience has changed you with others who understand and identify with the experience.  And how they encourage you to stretch even further as Naomi Hattaway and Emma McCarthy did.  

Our global experience gives us empathy and commonality with those whose experience is very different to ours as Mariam Ottimofiore demonstrated in her presentation about “The Other Expats – the migrant workers in Dubai.

From the TCKs (Third Culture Kids), whose experience of transition means they not only gain languages, resilience, global mindsets, but also experience immense loss and grief as Michael Pollock described in his session.  To the serial expats, - including the diplomats, military, missionary, global nomads- and the migrants who have moved for love, for life, for opportunities, as Sean Ghazi said in the final keynote we leave deposits of ourselves all over the world, and we pick them up when we return to those countries.” 

There is a continued need for support programs, for skilled counselling, or coaching.  As Lois Bushong pointed out in her presentation, TCKs are often misdiagnosed and pathologized.  The global transition experience also means there are amazing opportunities on the part of individuals for reflection and personal growth.

Where to from here?

Sir Mark Moody Stuart spoke about the future from a corporate perspective, about a time when technology will mean we won’t need to move people around the world to do the work in a different location.  And yet, he said, we still should.  It’s the expats who carry the stories, who express and embody the values of the organisation and take them from one place to another building a unity of values in the midst of diverse experiences. The diversity of thought gained from having different people at the table in one room is of real value.

Identity is dynamic as TCKs and CCKs learn.  “Who am I anyway?” sang Sean Ghazi. He challenged global parents to equip their children so that rather than blending in, they can, with a touch of class, stand out.  I believe these are the future bridge-builders and connectors of our world.

Ruth Van Reken, one of the founders of FIGT, challenged the conference to take their global skills and appreciation of diversity and diverse identities back ‘home’ to value, include and uplift others especially those who may feel they need to hide aspects of themselves.

Ultimately, we ask, what sort of world do we want to live in, and how can we bring it about?

Dania Santana in her session challenged us, “Will one ethnic group ultimately impose a ‘mainstream culture’ as it has been up until now? Or, are we witnessing a transformation of our identity in its global scope?”  Like her I believe and hope for the latter, but as she said, “We must contribute our part to reduce the fear of the unknown, create more dialogue and make an effort to see each other in our humanity.” 

And that’s what FIGT is good at!



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