“Becoming a microcosm of the world, for the world. It’s not a matter of you fitting into FIGT, it’s a matter of you belonging here,” says Nominations Director and intercultural training consultant Megan Norton as she reflects on FIGT2021.
Reporting by Megan Norton
It’s not a hyperbole that FIGT is becoming a microcosm of the world. As the organization grows, shifts, multiplies, and welcomes new sectors, languages, demographics, research, and interests, there are increasingly more action steps and initiatives to expand, champion diversity, and commit to inclusion.
FIGT2021 was my fifth FIGT conference. I distinctly remember Ruth Van Reken’s keynote address at the 2016 conference in the Netherlands (the first conference outside of the United States since inception in the early 1990s). She said the commitment of FIGT’s members has always been — and continues to be — to enlarge the “FIGT tent.”
The tent analogy is appropriate as our FIGT membership community has become more diverse, global, and cross-sector than ever before. The tent analogy resonates with so many of us who have had our own “tents” or “communities” or “homes” that we have repeatedly packed up and pitched elsewhere in the world. The FIGT “tent” stakes continue to be moved further and further apart as we offer resources, story-telling, research, and most importantly: community.
It’s not a matter of stretching the fabric of the tent; it’s a matter of stitching in more fabric, as the community contributes to the quilted mosaic of stories, research, experiences, perspectives, and patterns — all welcomed and weaved together in a safe place.
One FIGT2021 conference participant wrote in the virtual platform chat box about the conference sessions: “There's so much value in sharing and fostering spaces where people can talk about the alternative perspective.” I couldn’t agree more as our FIGT “tent” is about our stories and perspectives being pieced together and seen together.
One is not on top of the other. One is not in front of the other. We are a tapestry of cultures with our complex identities, dreams, passions, and commitment to enlarge our community.
One of the common descriptions of FIGT conferences is “the Reunion of Strangers.” Personally, I have experienced this at each one I’ve attended. I was a little apprehensive about how this would translate virtually this year, but I was not disappointed in the least.
From the conference platform features to the various community rooms, and from the presentation formats to the people who reached out through the chat boxes and direct messaging, there were ample opportunities and invitations to (re)connect, (un)learn, listen, and feel a sense of belonging in each virtual space. I think I shorted the exclamation mark on my keyboard as I overused it to communicate how enthusiastic, grateful, and honored I was to be both reunited and introduced to conference participants.
One of the most impactful takeaways I have from the conference comes from Danau Tanu’s keynote address on Day 3 of the conference. Titled “It’s a Two-Way Street,” the premise of the speech centered on heightening one’s own self-awareness for biases and blindspots when interacting across cultures.
Every one of us has the responsibility to take ownership for our actions and our potential to bridge differences by making the effort to meet others “in the middle.” Her personal stories of how she wrestled with the judgments she made about “others” and then reconciled how she championed truth over assumption-making provided a model and compassionate invitation for us to look deeply and authentically at ourselves and how we treat others.
Because of Danau’s courageous modelling, I was prompted to reach out to a community member with whom I knew I had some unresolved tension with. To be honest, I was not happy that she was in the FIGT virtual tent this year and I had to lean into the discomfort of reaching out to reconcile. I took steps to meet her in the middle. And I am grateful that she took steps to meet me there.
I’ve wondered if we had had this conference in person this year, what those steps may have looked like or if I would have had the courage to even take them. I’ve wondered if our paths would have even crossed at an in-person conference. This year’s virtual “tent” allowed me to find her, see where she was in it, and gave me access to meet her privately and directly.
This year, we used the social media hashtag “OURFIGT.” At one point during the live conference I wanted to use the hashtag “MYFIGT” because I identify so much with the values, mission, and vision of FIGT. But “OURFIGT” recognizes and respects that we are a community committed to welcoming, inviting, reconciling, and growing.
One of my favorite community rooms during the conference was the TCKs of Asia one. Prior to the conference start, a few of the TCKs of Asia leaders reached out to me to ask if I’d like to moderate some of the community room time slots. My initial reaction was, “I’m not a TCK of Asia. I’m not Asian. I can’t be a community room facilitator.”
But the leaders said, “Megan you are a TCK of Asia. You don’t have to be Asian or look Asian to be a part of the leadership. In fact, that’s the point of community rooms; to be inclusive of who may not look or sound or be ‘like’ us. You’re a TCK of Asia because you lived in South Korea and in Japan when you were a child.”
I loved meeting other TCKs of Asia who looked different from me, shared their different experiences, and celebrated both our likenesses and differences. For them to affirm parts of my identity that I hadn’t acknowledged or respected in so long was a gift of belonging and acceptance. There were several moments of deep joy, pain, celebration, and gratitude shared together in that virtual space. I felt whole and seen. I felt understood.
I have found that FIGT conference experiences can be both messy and magical. We need more spaces and places like FIGT conferences for us to show up as authentically and vulnerability as we do in this community.
We are FIGT, a group of individuals who are committed to gently, passionately, and wisely move the world as it is to what it should be. In the words of one of our founding mothers, Ruth Van Reken: “It matters that you are here. And it matters that we are here.”
I invite you to come into “our tent” where our cords stretch and the walls aren’t rigid. Come with an open heart and an open mind. It’s not a matter of fitting into FIGT, it’s a matter of you belonging here.
Megan Norton is an intercultural training consultant, facilitator, and researcher focused on supporting cross-cultural families. Her expertise as an intercultural trainer combined with her experience in international education enables her to design socio-emotional and educational programming tailored to globally mobile families and youth. Growing up as a US diplomat dependent, she lived in six countries and has lived in four more as an Adult Third Culture Kid, in addition to five US States. Megan is host and producer of “A Culture Story” — a podcast which focuses on cultural identity, belonging, and purpose. Her website is www.adultthirdculturekid.com.