A showcase of FIGT Members' written work, focusing on the issues we study, the best practices we share, and the strategies we provide to support expatriates and cross cultural individuals and their families. Contributions are a privilege for Small Business and Corporate membership levels only and you can submit up to 3 posts per year. Please use our online form below to submit a blog for consideration or contact blogeditor@figt.org.

  • 08 Feb 2021 2:03 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Families in Global Transition is thrilled to shine the Sponsor Spotlight on Gold Sponsor CrossBorder Living Institute.

    Crossborder Living Institute is FIGT Gold Sponsor

    Several years ago, Jennifer Patterson realized more needed to be done to help educate and guide those living and working across cultures and the financial practitioners who support them. 

    Jennifer, who has lived abroad more than half her life, and her dual-national husband Jeff know the subject matter firsthand: they have raised two tri-national children while working for Patterson Partners, their advisory firm for international clients.

    A longtime member and Gold Sponsor of FIGT, Jennifer created CrossBorder Living Institute with two aims in mind. 

    The first is to teach cross-border technical and practice-related topics to financial practitioners who support globally mobile people.

    The second is to provide events and training for the globally mobile to create, grow and manage their financial assets — regardless of how much or how few — in a way that best supports how they want to live.

    Check out the CrossBorder Living Institute Sponsor Spotlight video!

    FIGT is honored to welcome Jennifer and CrossBorder Living Institute back as our returning Gold sponsor, and look forward to seeing her in March at FIGT2021.


    FIGT is grateful to have incredible sponsors who understand the experiences and needs of the globally mobile community. For more information about sponsorship opportunities, please visit our sponsorship page.

  • 04 Feb 2021 1:55 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Families in Global Transition is thrilled to shine the Sponsor Spotlight on Platinum Sponsor Summertime Publishing.

    FIGT Platinum sponsor Summertime Publishing and Springtime Books

    Summertime Publishing was created by longtime FIGT member, supporter, and current Platinum Sponsor Jo Parfitt in 1997 as a way to get books by and for expatriates to print. 

    One of the earliest was her own Career in Your Suitcase, leading the way in books about portable careers. While authoring 30+ additional books, Jo has taught writing to many, helping to publish over 300 authors. 

    Today Summertime specializes in books “by and for people living abroad, with a particular emphasis on Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and issues affecting the global family.” 

    Check out the Summertime Publishing Sponsor Spotlight video!

    FIGT is honored to welcome Jo and Summertime Publishing back as our returning Platinum sponsor, and look forward to seeing her in March at FIGT2021.


    FIGT is grateful to have incredible sponsors who understand the experiences and needs of the globally mobile community. For more information about sponsorship opportunities, please visit our sponsorship page.

  • 19 Jan 2021 5:25 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Hailing from South Africa and now settled in Germany, Melanie Wilcocks had to learn how to deal with the cold northern European winters. Melanie will be running the show behind the scenes as FIGT Operations Lead.

    Photo of FIGT's new Operations Lead, Melanie Wilcocks, with decorative images of a horse, paper clips, and a notebook. 

    Please tell us a bit about yourself.

    My name is Melanie Wilcocks. I am a South African and currently live in a small village close to Munich in Germany with my husband, son, and a few pets. Together we have experienced China, The Netherlands, and eventually decided to settle in Germany.

    I have been a business analyst for most of my working career. It always gave me great joy to better businesses and people’s lives by enhancing and streamlining processes and systems.

    Can you please briefly describe what the Operations Lead does?

    The Operations Lead works behind the scenes in FIGT, supporting the FIGT Board and committees in running all aspects of the organization.

    What interested you in FIGT and inspired you to take on this role?

    As we moved across the globe, we experienced the frustrations, struggles, challenges, and joys of being an internationally mobile family. Doing this without the security of a support structure or an area to go to when looking for information was quite a daunting and sometimes lonely.

    When I came to the point where I felt that we as a family have sufficiently settled in Germany — understanding the culture, speaking the language — I knew that I wanted to go back to work again. But this time I wanted to work for an organization that helps others — others that are experiencing what we have experienced.

    When the position at FIGT became available, it was clear to me that this was the organization I wanted to work for — because if I had known and had access to the resources and information that FIGT provides when we first moved, I would have had a much better understanding and resources to support my family through our transitions.

    Because I am quite a shy person, this behind-the-scenes role was even more appealing to me.

    What are you looking forward to in your new role?

    I am looking forward to being part of a truly international team and to use my skills that I have built throughout my career to serve others.

    Your favorite thing about being a part of FIGT?

    I am quite new to FIGT, but even in the past few months dealing with FIGT, I have quickly come to learn that FIGT is a welcoming, friendly, and nonjudgmental organization — no matter where you come from, where you live, or even which accent you have.

    This is a wonderful feeling because, as many of us know and probably have experienced firsthand, most of the work when moving abroad from culture to culture or country to country goes into trying to fit in or being accepted.

    Can you share some random pieces of info about yourself?

    1. One of my hobbies is horse riding. I had to leave my horse behind in South Africa when we moved and would love to return to the sport again.
    2. My favorite German word is Eichhörnchen — because it’s so difficult to pronounce as it contains almost all the different sounds one might make in the German language. This word means squirrel.
    3. Arriving in the Netherlands in December (winter) from a very sunny summertime in South Africa was naturally quite a shock and, as a South African, I had no idea how to deal with the ice and cold weather in Europe. The day before our furniture arrived in January (after spending Christmas in our new home with beds on the floor and basic furniture borrowed from neighbors) I decided that a good clean of the house would be in order. With this in mind, I decided that the outside patio also needed to be washed. What I did not know is that instead of washing, I would create a frozen layer of ice on the patio that lasted the whole winter. It was so slippery that none of us could go out the patio door without falling until March!


    Please share some words of wisdom for FIGT members and globally mobile people in general.

    Don’t be too hard on yourself, your spouse, or your children. Being globally mobile (as exciting as it can be) can also be hard. Sometimes in the silent wings behind the stage, don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek support, everywhere and as often as you need.

    Always be proud of your culture, where you come from and where you have been. No one has a story exactly the same as yours — you are unique!

    Thank you Melanie, and welcome to the FIGT team!

  • 07 Jan 2021 11:59 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Registration is now open for Families in Global Transition’s first virtual conference.

    FIGT Virtual Conference 12-14 March 2021, Embracing & bridging differences. Registration now open!

    FIGT2021 - Embracing & Bridging Differences will take place across multiple timezones over 12-14 March 2021. You can read more about our theme and view the full conference program here.

    The conference registration fee is US$89 and includes:

    • Three live conference sessions, each four hours long, across 12-14 March. 

      At least two of the conference’s four-hour sessions should fall into your timezone.

    • Networking and social opportunities with participants and presenters throughout the weekend
    • A range of online events in the week before the conference
    • Access to all conference content for six months after the event

    All of this will be available on one easy-to-use online platform.

    Some conference presentations will be pre-recorded, with presenters available for live Q&A sessions online after their presentation has been shown.

    We look forward to connecting with you there!


    Register button

    To stay up to date with the latest conference news, follow us on FacebookTwitter and Linkedin, and subscribe to our newsletter.

  • 20 Nov 2020 3:17 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    The driving force behind FIGT’s social media presence for the last two years, animal-lover Sarah Black is FIGT’s new Communications Co-Director. Having started her expat journey relatively late, she reassures us that it’s never too late to do what you want to do!

    Blog title: Sarah Black is FIGT's new Communications Co-Director

    Can you briefly describe your FIGT role?

    I’m Co-Director for Communications. I am fortunate to share this role with Flor Breton-Garcia. Together we are responsible for FIGT’s internal and external communications.

    What inspired you to stand for this particular office?

    I have been part of FIGT’s Communications team for just over two years. What led me to volunteer then is what led me to stand for this new role. I wanted to use my professional expertise and experience in communications to give back to a community and organization that means so much to me and has greatly enriched my life. 

    Anything you particularly hope to accomplish this year?

    As someone who knows the value of being part of the FIGT community, I really want to make us more accessible and available to more people, particularly those who most need its support.

    I also want to see our community continue to become more inclusive of all the rich variety of globally mobile experiences.

    Your favorite thing about being a part of FIGT?

    There’s so much, I don’t know if I can pick one thing! I love how broad our community is — it doesn’t matter what your global mobility journey or experience looks like, you are welcome and valued here. I love the friendships I have formed, often with people who I have never met in person but who have hugely enriched my life.

    And day-to-day, I love working with the many dedicated volunteers who make up the Communications team — there’s a lot of laughter in our team meetings!

    Can you share a random piece of info about yourself please?

    To know me is to know my dogs. I’ve always loved dogs and during our time in Texas, we adopted two shelter mutts who are now highly pampered expat pets. I also became a shelter volunteer so people might be surprised to know that I’ve actually taken a lot of animal behavior and dog training courses.

    Please share some words of wisdom for FIGT members and globally mobile people in general

    It’s never too late to do whatever it is you want to do. My husband and I moved internationally for the very first time ten years ago when we were 40.

    So please don’t think that because you weren’t a Third Culture Kid or haven’t lived in more than a couple of countries, or haven’t written a book, that you somehow don’t belong in our community. You do. We’d love you to be part of FIGT!

    The Directors are already busy working! Learn more about Sarah and the other Board members, and stay connected via FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter and sign up to our newsletter to get the latest!

  • 04 Nov 2020 10:00 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Communications Co-Director Flor Bretón-García is passionate about intercultural communication. She wants to bring more voices that need to be heard to FIGT.

    blog post title: Meet the new FIGT communications co-director Flor Bretón-García

    Can you please briefly describe your FIGT role?

    I’m Co-Chair Director for Communications. I share the responsibility for external and internal communications with my colleague and co-chair Sarah Black.

    What inspired you to stand for this particular office?

    I’ve been part of FIGT’s volunteering workforce for eight months now. I treasure the values of the organization and the diversity of its members. 

    I’m also passionate about intercultural communications and digital content for nonprofit groups, so it seemed like a great opportunity for me to apply for this office and try to make it happen. I feel that I can make an important impact within the cross-cultural community.

    Anything you particularly hope to accomplish this year? What do you look forward to?

    My focus this year is to continue bringing the values of FIGT to more people around the world. There are still too many voices that need to be heard and being part of the communications team gives me the possibility to reach out to all those who aren’t part of FIGT yet. 

    Your favorite thing about being a part of FIGT?

    I love being surrounded by people with different backgrounds and ideas, the sense of community, and the possibility of using my skills to help others in transition. 

    Can you share a random piece of info about yourself please?

    I’m crazy about the beach. The blue waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Indian Ocean are definitely my happy place. I think growing up in Venezuela and living very close to the sea became part of my cultural identity and personality. 

    Please share some words of wisdom for FIGT members and globally mobile people in general

    Please don’t be afraid to raise your voice to support your own ideas and those of the people you believe in. Find the way to connect with others to use your skills to make the world a better place for all those in need, especially those families living abroad. 

    It is your energy and commitment that FIGT and the globally mobile community need to make their transition path as meaningful as possible! 

    We thank the outbound Directors for their leadership and welcome the new Directors. Learn more about Flor and the other Board members, and stay connected via FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter and sign up to our newsletter to get the latest!

  • 01 Nov 2020 7:01 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    FIGT Focus is exploring privilege for November 2020. It’s a topic that makes many of us uncomfortable. It would be a whole lot easier to just not talk about. But we must. 

    Blog title: FIGT Focus for Nov 2020 is Privilege

    This month, FIGT Focus is exploring privilege. It’s a topic that makes many of us uncomfortable. In some contexts, it might make us feel resentful, frustrated or even angry—and often, rightly so. It can even bring up feelings of shame or embarrassment. It’s one of those topics that it would be a whole lot easier to just not talk about.

    But we must. 

    If we want to change the racism that many inside and outside our globally mobile community experience, then we all need to get uncomfortable. If we want to be more inclusive of all those people who are just a little different from us, whether through race, sexuality, religion, abilities, language or education, then we have to start with looking at privilege.

    The Board and the Communications volunteers have given a lot of thought to how we have this conversation together during the month of November. We will share some more on what topics you can expect to see us explore this month in this blog but first, we wanted to share some thoughts on how we discuss the thorny issue of privilege.

    We recognize our own privilege.

    As we approach conversations about race, national identity, language, and marginalization, we can begin by acknowledging the privilege we have in our own lives. You can read more about this in our first Conversation for Change blog.

    We acknowledge our own biases.

    Our brains are extraordinary but one of their shortcomings is that they categorize people and ideas too quickly, and in doing so, we can unintentionally marginalize others, and perpetuate racism and inequity. 

    There is a relationship between our experience of privilege and our brains’ biases. Acknowledging this and working towards greater awareness is a huge step, but so is understanding that we will still sometimes make mistakes. It is important to be willing to learn.

    We view privilege through the lens of global mobility.

    We are grateful for the many hard conversations that are happening around the world about privilege and inequity. Our role within that work is to look at how FIGT’s community and work are impacted by privilege and inequity.

    In line with our mission, we want to support the growth, success and well-being of people crossing cultures around the world.

    We hope that we will start conversations this month that continue to do that for some time to come. We will also continue to question who is not yet at the FIGT ‘table’ and do what we can to address this.

    We are borrowing an umbrella of forgiveness.

    Some of you will have seen the Lightning Session presented by FIGT Members Jerry Jones and Cath Brew at FIGT2019. As two people with apparently little in common and a lot of potential for negative assumptions about each other’s labels, Jerry began what would be a life-changing conversation for both of them by asking for an umbrella of forgiveness for what he feared he would get wrong.

    Please use Jerry’s umbrella freely this month so that we can create safe spaces where instead of being afraid to speak up and learn from each other, we ask questions and learn together, openly and honestly.

    ▶You can watch Cath & Jerry’s presentation here

    We know this can be hard.

    Looking at our own privilege and how it impacts others is uncomfortable. Sharing stories about how you have been discriminated against or marginalized is incredibly difficult. Being privileged also does not stop challenging things happening to you or experiencing stress or trauma.

    Be kind to yourself and whatever your situation and please remember to exercise some self-care. This has been a difficult year for so many. 

    Everyone’s experience has value.

    It doesn’t matter how long you have been living a transient life, or what your globally mobile journey looks like; your story and experience matter.

    We come ready to learn.

    No single one of us knows it all. We enter this conversation with humility, a willingness to ask our questions and to learn from the experience of others.

    We know that there is no ‘right’ thing to say and that it is sometimes better to put aside our fear of being judged for ‘getting it wrong’ and speak than to say nothing. We invite you all to come equally ready to share and contribute and to answer those questions.

    A recent New York Times article by Noor Brara on third culture kids expressed our feeling about how we move into this Focus on privilege together beautifully:

    “And because our stories couldn’t be gleaned from our outward appearances, accents or possessions, we all came humble to the table, open and permeable and ready to barter the surfaces of our souls: our learnings, our languages, our cuisines, our clothing.”

    What we will explore together this month

    Some of our community have graciously agreed to participate in panel discussions on three major themes this month. We debated whether we would pre-record these conversations or host them ‘live’. One of the issues that arose was timezones and access. As a result, these are being pre-recorded so that everyone can view them via our social media. 

    In addition, we will be sharing articles, blogs, and other content that we will hope will inspire thought and reflection around privilege.

    We hope that this will stimulate further discussion and sharing — we can only scratch the surface of these topics.

    Please keep the conversation going by commenting online and if you’re an FIGT Member, you can also use our closed Facebook Members group to engage further or share your feedback with us directly via figt2020@figt.org.

    • The privilege of language: This discussion will explore how different languages are viewed, the privilege of being multilingual, the privilege of having spoken language, and how language can be used to marginalize others

    • The privilege of race: How do racism and colorism impact our globally mobile community and how can we respond?

    • Standing outside: Privilege comes in many forms, and it can shift subtly with the context. This conversation will explore how it feels to be ‘outside’ the majority.

    We look forward to the start of what we hope will be a useful period of learning, reflection and sharing.

    To access the content:
    Please join us on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter. Video content will be available for the month and then archived to the members’ only section of this website.

  • 28 Oct 2020 8:47 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    October was Membership Drive month at FIGT but it’s not over yet! Find out more about Membership, why get involved, and how.

    Blog title: 2020 membership drive. Drawing of many hands holding strings connected to the letters FIGT. Drawn by Cath Brew

    October was Membership Drive month at FIGT. Without our members we would not, and could not, exist. 

    Throughout the month, we were excited to share a series of videos from FIGT Members describing what FIGT membership means to them. With such a diverse membership, FIGT means many different things to different people.

    ▶ If you’ve missed any of these videos, you can watch them all here. 

    A very big thank you to all our Members and Affiliates who participated by sharing their stories and promoting our content across social media. 

    It’s not too late to get involved! 

    October may be coming to an end, but our efforts to grow our membership are ongoing. 

    Learn more about our 2020 Membership Drive and please support our efforts by sharing our content across social media (with hashtag #OurFIGT) and encouraging your family, friends and colleagues to join us.

    Membership provides valuable opportunities to forge deep connections and share knowledge. 

    Members have access to a wide range of privileges, including high-quality member-only resources, an exclusive Facebook members group, discounts, volunteer opportunities, a listing in the Member Directory, and the opportunity to invest in and contribute to the field of global mobility.  

    Membership enables all of us to actively play a role in a diverse, enriching community. 

    Are you considering FIGT membership but still wondering if it’s for you? 

    One of our favourite things about FIGT is the diverse experiences of our Members. It doesn’t matter why you moved or how you moved—FIGT welcomes people with every type of global mobility experience.

    We break down some of the myths about FIGT membership in a recent blog article

    If you are not already a part of this unique and growing community, we extend a very warm invitation to join us.  We’d love to meet you and hear about your experiences.

    Did you know we have 4 different membership levels? 

    Have you considered renewing your membership at a different level? Perhaps you joined as an individual, but as a small-business owner, you may be wondering if a different membership level is for you.

    It may be a good time to review the different membership levels and their associated privileges to see what level best suits your current situation.

    Thank you to our Members!

    Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to send a heartfelt thank you to all our FIGT Members, past and present. 

    Through the support of our diverse and dynamic Members and the dedication of nearly 100 volunteers, FIGT has grown from a grassroots organization into a global community touching nearly every corner of the globe. 

    Membership and sponsorship are the cornerstones of our existence. They are fundamental to our ability to fulfill our mission to be a welcoming forum for globally mobile individuals, families, and those working with them. 

    As we said at the top: without you, we would not, and could not, exist.

    (Cover drawing by Cath Brew, Drawn to a Story)

    If you have more questions about individual Membership, please visit our 2020 Membership Drive page for more information or reach out to Jodi Harris at vice-president@figt.org. For Sponsorship enquiries, please contact our Sponsorship Director at sponsorship@figt.org.

    Also don’t forget to join us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter and sign up to our newsletter to get updates.

    Members who haven’t already: do send a request to join the FIGT Members Group on Facebook.

  • 21 Oct 2020 9:26 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Wondering whether FIGT is for you? Don’t let any of these misconceptions about FIGT Membership stop you from joining this wonderful community!

    blog title: Is FIGT for me? 2020 Membership Drive

    If you follow FIGT on any of its social media platforms, you might have noticed that we’ve been talking a lot about what FIGT means to our current Members this month. 

    We’ve been explaining that without its Members, FIGT would not and could not exist. Our Members are at the heart of FIGT.

    If you’ve missed these videos, you can watch them all here.

    You might be considering joining FIGT but wondering if it’s really for you. So we thought it might be helpful to address some of the misconceptions that sometimes come up about who FIGT is for.

    FIGT Membership Myths

    1. “You need to have lived in lots of different countries.”

    It doesn’t matter whether you have run out of fingers to count the countries you’ve called home or you moved to just one place from where you were born and stayed there. 

    FIGT is for anyone who has lived or is living outside their country of birth.

    If you have never moved but you work in a role that supports those who have, then FIGT is also most definitely for you! Becoming a member is a great way to help you understand the challenges and richness of living a globally mobile life of any kind.

    Finally, if you’ve moved in the past but have repatriated—whether by choice or not—then you will find people in our Membership who understand the unique challenges that such a move brings.

    2. “FIGT is just for TCKs.”

    While we do have a lot of TCKs (third culture kids), ATCKs (adult third culture kids) and CCKs (cross culture kids) as Members, not all of our Members are—and you don’t even need to know what any of those initials stand for.

    There are plenty of people in our Membership who can help you understand what TCKs are and how their experiences impact them. 

    So you don’t need to be a TCK, and you also don’t need to be raising one. We don’t care what age you began to experience a globally mobile life. Your experience is valuable.

    3. “I don’t feel like a stereotypical expat.”

    Awesome—we are not big fans of stereotypes. 

    We’re not really sure what a stereotypical expat might be anymore, but one of the things that we think make FIGT great is diversity and we welcome individuals with every kind of experience of moving around the world. 

    It doesn’t matter why you moved or how you moved. So whether you chose to move because of a job opportunity and a sense of adventure, because you fell in love with someone from another part of the world, because of military service, because you had to flee a situation in your home country or you felt the call of faith, we would love to hear your story and learn from you. 

    We also know that we have more work to do to become a more inclusive community and we are committed to looking for who is not at the FIGT “table” and how we can make everyone feel more welcome.

    4. “I don’t have a business or a book or even a blog to share.”

    Whatever your background, expertise or experience, your journey and experience are valuable. You don’t have to be in research, be running a business for globally mobile individuals or families or be writing a book. 

    We are fortunate to have some amazing authors, thinkers, leaders, researchers and educators in our Membership—but that’s not our whole community.

    We can ALL learn from each other, regardless of our backgrounds, experience and expertise.

    5. “I’ve moved back ‘home.’”

    Repatriation or going to wherever you call “home” is its own unique experience and can bring specific challenges and joys. It is a huge part of so many globally mobile people’s lives and something we talk about a lot within our community. 

    Your experience and story are incredibly valuable and could really help others going through this change. And you can be repatriated and still feel and be “global.”

    6. “I don’t know how I could connect with people without meeting them.”

    We acknowledge that this can be hard, particularly when you add in cultural and language differences and time zones. 

    Many of our Members form connections through meeting at our conference (when can it can take place!) or through local Affiliate events. We will continue to work on finding ways to help Members get to know each other. 

    What we do know is that FIGT Members value connection and community so don’t be shy. We know of many close friends who have never spent time together physically but who met virtually through our Facebook group, webinars, workshops or volunteering. 

    Many of our Board Members and volunteers have never met in person but we know that these are rich, valuable and sometimes life-changing relationships.

    And since FIGT is run almost entirely by volunteers, we are always looking for more people to help us deliver value and services for our community—and it is a great way of making connections!

    So who is FIGT for?

    If you are globally mobile for any reason or if you work to support those who are, it is for you.

    That’s why we are here: to support you wherever you are on your journey.

    We hope you will join this unique and growing community—we can’t wait to meet you.

    If you have more questions about individual Membership, please visit our 2020 Membership drive page for more information or reach out to Jodi Harris at vice-president@figt.org

    And please join us on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter and sign up to our newsletter to get updates! (Members, please request to be added to the FIGT Members Group, if you haven't already.)

  • 17 Oct 2020 4:21 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    What does the biology of the brain have to do with culture and identity? Dr. Richard Pearce explored this question at an FIGT Research Network Affiliate event on 25 September 2020.

    Blog title banner: Brain, culture & identity. 25 Sep 2020 virtual seminar.

    The FIGT Research Network (FRN) Affiliate held an online seminar on 25 September 2020 with Dr. Richard Pearce to explore what the brain has to do with culture and identity. What if the biology of the brain and its mechanisms was the real architect of our values, which in turn direct our behaviour, shape our culture and form our identity? Dr. Danau Tanu, Co-Chair of the FIGT Research Network, hosted the event.

    Dr. Richard Pearce, who has been involved with international schools for over 50 years including doctoral research on the adjustment of internationally mobile children, drew on a number of different disciplines to present a biologist’s view of how humans decide what to do, a look at why it does not feel like this in our lives, and some suggestions for further research.

    How the brain decides what is good vs bad, right vs wrong

    The first point Richard made was that the brain works partly consciously and partly unconsciously. Much human decision-making is intuitive, as psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman has demonstrated. 

    Antonio Damasio, a neurobiologist, has shown that the internal conditions like body temperature which we regulate automatically can also be detected consciously, as “gut feelings,” telling us whether conditions are right or wrong.

    This kind of signal of right or wrong can also become linked to conscious ideas, so that we feel emotionally that they are good or bad. This, he claimed, is the function of the emotions, to tell us what is good or bad to do.

    Richard explained that as we go through life, we accumulate memories with positive and negative labels, and add to them by conversations, storytelling, print and digital records. These memories build up to become a collection of images of good and bad, which we call “culture.” 

    The first memory we absorb is the attachment to the person or people who we feel are good—this feeling, we call love, affection, membership, loyalty, belonging. And we accept the things that these people close to us teach us as good or right. In this way, we collect images of what is normal and much more strongly held images of what is morally right. 

    This ... signal of right or wrong can ... become linked to conscious ideas, so that we feel emotionally that they are good or bad.

    These are adopted with the authority of those important people: norms are approved by people we are weakly attached to, while moral values have very strong authority associated with ancestors, family, or divinities.

    When we debate a course of action in our minds, these powerful authorities are difficult to argue against, giving us a strong moral compass. 

    Richard suggested that the self-comparisons we make with the various authorities are best termed “identification” and that this process is real, whereas “identity” is just an impression that we have (a reification). In this account he used the word “values” quite loosely, noting that normative and moral values differ in their importance.

    Richard explained that we don’t think how we make decisions because our conscious mind is a passenger inside the human machine, and it would be distracting to be aware of its workings.

    What we need are clear impressions of the world and a sense that we know, absolutely, what is right or wrong, together with a feeling that we must do and approve what feels right.

    Unfortunately we often extend this certainty to a conviction that everyone must feel the same, and this causes problems.

    Our lists of right and wrong and culture shock

    Thinking about how we compile our list of right and wrong, Richard explained that each new experience, whether first-hand or heard from other people’s stories, will be tested against our existing account of the world.

    If it matches, it will be added. If it is impossible to ignore but doesn’t fit, the system must adjust, by redefining or reprioritizing experiences. In extreme cases, a new parallel system of labelled images will be developed, which will be used only in this setting.

    In this process of digesting a new experience, the person on whose authority we judge the experience is very important. If we identify strongly with them and they have powerful authority in our minds, we will do our best to accommodate the new value. 

    If we have adapted well and adopted many of the new values abroad, we may feel a shock when we come home. People staying at home gradually update their views as they grow older, and the home country changes, too.

    The expat has missed out on this so they have trouble fitting in at home, and they also have recent experiences which are not valued by their new peers. This is the original TCK experience.

    Directions for research

    Addressing the researchers in the FRN, Richard offered a lengthy list of topics which might be illuminated by such an approach. Because human value systems are so complex, he proposed that case studies were more likely to be helpful than quantitative research. He summarized the new insights into cultural misunderstandings in three ways: 

    • What are the different meanings we attach to a situation?

    • Whose authority makes us believe our own interpretation? 

    • How important is it to us? 

    Research into meanings could explore social imaginaries of two societies, or concentrate on the quality of communication, particularly where one or more is using a second language.

    He suggested that the relative salience of the authorities who validate one’s values may differ widely and in ways invisible from the outside. This may become more important as English is used as a global second language in ever more situations.

    Finally, he proposed that a growing question is the relative salience of first-hand and online information. 

    Richard closed with a plea for research on long-term diasporic communities, to explore how they comfortably accommodate the alien values of host communities.

    If you would like to join future events organized by the FIGT Research Network (FRN) Affiliate, please go to the FRN webpage to find out how you can stay informed.

    How to cite this webinar

    Pearce, Richard. (2020) Brain, Culture and Identity: Beyond the Third Culture Kid Paradigm. Families In Global Transition Research Network Affiliate. [Virtual seminar, 25 September 2020.]

    Useful references

    Brubaker, R., and Cooper, F. (2000). Beyond “Identity.” Theory and Society, 29, pp. 1-47.

    Cacioppo, J. T., Berntson, G. G., and Klein, D. J. (1992). “What Is an Emotion? The Role of Somatovisceral Afference, with Special Emphasis on Somatovisceral ‘Illusions,’” in M. S. Clark (ed.), Emotion and Social Behaviour. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

    Damasio, A. R. (2018). The Strange of Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures. New York: Pantheon Books. 

    Frith, C. D. (2013). How the Brain Creates Culture, paper presented to the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina Annual Assembly 2013.

    Haidt, J. (2012). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. London: Allen Lane.

    Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. London: Allen Lane.

    Lakoff, G., and Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Mischkowski, D., Crocker, J., and Way, B. M. (2019). A Social Analgesic? Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) Reduces Positive Empathy, Frontiers in Psychology, 29 March 2019. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00538 accessed 27 January 2020.

    Weinreich, P. (2003). ‘Identity Structure Analysis’, in P. Weinreich and W. Saunderson (eds.), Analysing Identity: Cross-Cultural, Societal and Clinical Contexts. London: Routledge.


    Profile photo of Richard PearceRichard Pearce, PhD, is British, and has worked in the UK and the USA and researched in the Netherlands. At the International School of London his roles included Director of Admissions.

    Though he was trained as a biologist, this close contact with mobile parents led to his doctoral research through the University of Bath on how mobile children adjust.

    Richard now writes and lectures on International Education, Culture and Identity seen through the lens of Cross-Cultural Psychology. He is the editor of the book, International Education and Schools: Moving Beyond the First 40 Years, and has contributed to Migration, Diversity, and Education: Beyond Third Culture Kids.

    Profile photo of Danau TanuDanau Tanu, PhD, is the author of Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School, the first book on structural racism in international schools and a contributing author to Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids.

    She is currently an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Social Sciences of the University of Western Australia and was recently awarded a postdoctoral fellowship by the Japan Foundation to commence at Waseda University in 2021.

    Danau has published ethnographic studies on Third Culture Kids and mixed-race identities. She is a Co-Chair of the FIGT Research Network and Co-Founder of TCKs of Asia.

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