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.

  • 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.

  • 13 Oct 2020 4:03 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    International educator and new Program Director Stephen Toole grew up in rural Australia but now finds his community amongst the globally mobile. He sees the first virtual FIGT conference as an opportunity to bring many more people to this thriving community.

    Banner with blog title, meet new board 2020-21 Stephen Toole, Program Director

    Can you please briefly describe your FIGT role?

    The Program Director has the responsibility to oversee all program-related activities for FIGT. My primary role on the board is to focus on the annual conference and, with the team of volunteers who work on the program committee, to review and select who will present at this event. 

    I also work with the other board members to share, connect, and celebrate research, insights, and experiences of our greater community.

    What inspired you to stand for this particular office?

    I have been working on the program committee with former Program Director Valérie Besanceney for the past two years as the leader of the concurrent sessions. I thoroughly enjoyed the work that I did supporting her and the team, reading through the proposals that are sent for us and then selecting those presentations that we believe best fit the conference theme. 

    For me, it felt like a natural progression to take over from Valérie and I look forward to continuing the great work that she has done during her tenure in this role. 

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

    This year will provide many new and exciting challenges as we move the conference online for the first time in its history. Hopefully, this will make it more accessible to people who normally may not be able to join the in-person conference due to time commitments and/or costs. 

    I think this year will be an amazing opportunity to bring the conference to so many more people. Hopefully, it will be the catalyst that will see us grow even more, so that FIGT may truly become an organization that is representative of all the people around the world who know and understand the issues surrounding mobility. 

    One of my goals is to enhance the conference by including voices representing experiences that are different from those that many of us may have had: for example, inviting people to speak about refugees and forced migration. Continuing to highlight such issues will give us the opportunity to grow and learn from people whose experience is so vastly different from our own. 

    I would also like to see content delivered at the conference in different languages, giving more people the chance to share their experiences in a language that is representative of who they are as a person. 

    Your favorite thing about being a part of FIGT?

    My favorite part of being a member of FIGT is the warm welcome that I have received into the community and the connections that I have made. Because of my association with FIGT, I was able to meet Ruth van Reken, FIGT Founder and co-author of Third Culture Kids, and Christopher O'Shaughnessy, author of Arrivals, Departures and the Adventures In-Between, and invite them to speak at the international school in which I most recently worked. 

    I was also lucky enough to meet Isabelle Min, founder of Transition Catalyst Korea (TCK) Institute and the FIGT Korea Affiliate, in person and she invited me to a conversation with other TCKs from Asia. This connection has seen me grow my understanding of the experiences that our Asian friends have had living away from their passport country and the lasting impact that this has had on them. 

    Another connection I made through FIGT has been getting to know psychologist Doug Ota, author of Safe Passage, and the team who is developing the Safe Passage Across Networks (SPAN) transition care program that is going to be shared with the wider international school community. 

    The work that I have done with FIGT has also prompted me to begin the International Education Affiliate, which will connect teachers and counselors within our network to ensure that we are discussing best practices to help students and their families to navigate the international school system. 

    Can you share a random piece of info about yourself?

    Something that might be a little unusual about me that many people may not know is that I did not grow up internationally. In fact, I was 24 before I even left Australia and that was only to go to New Zealand on a school trip! 

    My upbringing was in rural New South Wales, which is a state in Australia. I attended a two-teacher school for my K-6 education and I traveled about 50 minutes (each way) by bus to attend high school in the nearest town, which has a population of about 2,000 people. 

    I officially left Australia at the age of 27 to live and work in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, where I taught in a local public school for three years. From there I moved to China, then Germany, and most recently (with my family), I have been living in India. However, due to COVID-19, we have temporarily relocated back to Australia and are waiting to see where the winds of change will take us next. 

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

    I know that I am preaching to the converted when I write this quote; however, it is one of my favorites and I wish to share it here: 

    Life is like a book and those who do not travel only read one page.

    I live by this. Given my privilege, I have been able to travel to many parts of the world and experience so many wonderful things. And this eventually led me to FIGT, a community where I feel I truly belong. 

    We thank the outbound Directors for their leadership and welcome the new Directors. Learn more about Stephen and the other Board members, and stay connected via FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter and sign up to our newsletter to get the latest!
  • 01 Oct 2020 10:47 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Emily Rogers found her tribe at FIGT2019. As the new Affiliates Director, she hopes to promote community and connection “locally” through the FIGT Affiliates all around the globe.

    blog title: meet your new board 2020-2021 Emily Rogers, Affiliates Director

    Can you please briefly describe your FIGT role?

    I am so excited to be taking on the role of Affiliates Director for FIGT. My role is to enhance the membership of our organization by supporting the Affiliate groups. These may be location-based or special interest virtual groups that come together to share resources, ideas, and connections.

    What inspired you to stand for this particular office?

    Since discovering FIGT, I feel like I have found my tribe. Throughout my expat life, I have been leading and supporting the community, wherever we were based. Taking these community-focused skills, I see a great opportunity with this FIGT role to support people in all “corners” of the globe, with the Affiliates providing people the opportunity to connect and share. 

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

    I am already learning so much more about FIGT and hope to be a great support to the amazing team that we have. 

    I was so disappointed when our conference was canceled this year; however, I see the opportunity to promote the Affiliates as another way to connect. 

    It will never replace an experience like the conference, but there is so much we can do “locally” and I can’t wait to explore this.

    Your favorite thing about being a part of FIGT?

    Attending my first conference in Bangkok in 2019 was truly an experience of coming home. I never realized that I was missing a part of me until I found my tribe in FIGT. 

    I am awe-inspired by the people who are involved in FIGT and to have this opportunity now to serve among them is priceless.

    Can you share a random piece of info about yourself?

    The Mumbai attacks in 2008 changed the way security in India worked. Although we had been living abroad for a few years, when we first arrived in India, I hadn’t quite gotten my head around it all and hence one of my most embarrassing moments.

    Hubby and I decided to take in a movie, and to enter the mall, you have to go through security. Hubby went through the body scanner; I was about to follow when the female guard asked “you’re pregnant?” I replied “yes”—frankly, I was huge and it was rather obvious. 

    The female guard then leaned in towards me—I thought it was for a hug and wrapped my arms around her. Turns out she wanted to pat me down rather than me go through the scanner.

    I’m not sure who was more uncomfortable, but I blushed terribly when I realized the error I’d made!

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

    While living in India I heard the phrase “It will all be OK in the end; if it’s not OK, then it’s not the end.” I think when you’re living a global life, with so much uncertainty and change being the norm, having this piece of wisdom has helped me immensely. 

    Everything does work out. It may not be how I imagined or pictured it, but the path does have it’s own journey and that is valuable in itself. 

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

  • 28 Sep 2020 7:02 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    International schools aren’t necessarily the open-minded and globalized spaces as may be commonly thought. In the second FIGT Conversations for Change, Dr. Danau Tanu, author of Growing Up in Transit, showed us how structural racism plays out in international schools and shared her vision for a different kind of integration.

    Blog title with image of stacked color pencils

    On 28/29 July 2020, FIGT held its second Conversations for Change, with guest Dr. Danau Tanu, author of Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School, Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Social Sciences, University of Western Australia, and Co-Chair of the FIGT Research Network Affiliate. The conversation was hosted by FIGT Secretary and organizational psychologist Trisha Carter.

    These Conversations are part of FIGT’s efforts to examine our privilege and to explore how our community might respond to racism, inequities, disparities, and discrimination around the world—particularly focusing on our globally mobile and cross-cultural community.

    (Please scroll down to watch the recording of this Conversation.)

    The recent swell of attention on Black Lives Matter in the US triggered discussions on race and power around the world. Within the international school circles, an article by an international school alum sparked a worldwide conversation on structural racism and diversity. The call for change was quickly followed by other articles, petitions, testimonies, and global panels from alumni, current students, educators and staff at accreditation authorities and hiring agencies. (See Resources section) 

    So what are the issues for international schools and what are the ways forward?

    [Note: This report is based on Danau’s published research findings, which she shared in this Conversation, and anonymously incorporates comments from webinar participants. Please see the Resources section for links mentioned/shared during the webinar.]

    Starting point: Acknowledging our own privileges

    Trisha and Danau opened the session with an Australian custom which respectfully acknowledges the traditional owners of the land they are both living and working on: the Dharawal people (Southern Sydney, New South Wales) and the Noongar people (Perth, Western Australia). 

    Identifying our own privilege can be a powerful starting point to ease us into difficult conversations about inequities and power

    They also welcomed the different communities and the global perspectives brought to the conversation by the participants—international school teachers and staff, parents and other family members of children in international schools, third culture kids (TCKs) who attended international schools (and others who didn’t), all seeking ways to better support students and build a better, more inclusive international school system.

    Danau began with a reflection on how we all have racial biases and how we can be blind to the way our privilege may affect others. Identifying our own privilege can be a powerful starting point to ease us into difficult conversations about inequities and power, especially linked to race.

    Within the international schools, for example, privilege could come from being able to speak English with a “native” accent, coming from a Western country or an English-speaking family, and being white or lighter-skinned, able-bodied, male and cis-gendered. 

    Being privileged in some ways does not mean the person is not underprivileged in other ways.

    The challenge: Not recognizing structural racism in international schools

    The fundamental problem is that too many—especially administrators, teachers, parents—don’t recognize that structural racism exists in international schools.

    Schools prefer to say they are “colorblind,” that their school environment is open minded and globalized, especially compared to schools “back home.” Different races hang out together, they say. So what’s the problem? 

    But many students know that structural racism exists. Teachers of color know it exists. 

    It’s only that students are often unable to articulate what they see and teachers of color are scared of reprisal to say something.

    Five middle or high school students of mixed race, smiling and holding a sign that says "we are the future"

    Students’ perspectives

    ▶Shedding language and culture

    The dominant narrative is that international schools are home for TCKs, but that’s not always true. As one participant shared, the values seen as the norm, as superior, were Western ones.

    Being a child of an Indonesian father and Japanese mother and attending international schools, Danau herself experienced the dissonance of having to be, as she says, “Western by day and Asian by night.” At school, she could see the bond between the Western teachers and students but, as a child, she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t a part of it or that the bond was a result of shared culture. 

    ... too many—especially administrators, teachers, parents—don’t recognize that structural racism exists in international schools.

    Children can sense power from a very young age. They can see which is the power language and the culture that has the greater power, and they are drawn to it. 

    Under pressure to become Westernized and to speak English (one participant shared how in her school, she was not allowed to speak the local language), many students from non-Western, non-English-speaking families end up shedding a part of their home culture and language. 

    Many children internalize racism against their own people, including their parents. Some children grow up and find they can’t speak their family’s language fluently, some even claim needing a dictionary to write to their own parents after they’ve left home for college.


    In the schools, teachers blame the kids who don’t integrate as self-segregating. But that’s not the whole picture, as Danau’s research with international school students revealed.

    Non-Western students said that they tried to talk with the English-speaking kids—but the latter didn’t seem interested. Danau quoted one Korean student who explained:

    “If I ask Korean friends, ‘Oh, what is the school homework,’ they tell you and they talk about other things: talk about teacher and how the other teachers that doesn’t give this homework but our teacher does and blah, blah, blah. … But if I go to the Western people then they’ll just tell me the homework, you know what I mean? And finish that talk” (from Growing Up in Transit).

    Often, the kids who don’t speak English as their first language are quiet in mainstream classes. Teachers think that’s just how they are, that it’s their culture to be quiet, not participatory. But when in their home language class, those same students are chatting and laughing, actively engaging. They show a completely different personality. 

    The international schools also tend to value not only sports but certain types of sports over others. Badminton, for example, was popular among Asian students and a national sport in Indonesia but it was not perceived as prominent at the school.

    Many of the Asian students Danau talked with were in the strings group or the band, which played in school functions, but their contributions were little acknowledged compared to the contributions of athletes who played rugby, baseball, or track and field.

    School leaders don’t always see this.

    Schools’ perspective

    So how do the actions of people within the school system—the administration or teachers—contribute to or alleviate systematic racism?

    ▶Gatekeeping: “They’re not really TCKs”

    The teachers Danau spoke with in her research would say something along the lines of “everyone’s a TCK here…oh, except the Korean kids and Indonesian kids.”

    When Danau explored this response, she realized that the teachers or administrators thought a student was “not really TCK” unless they fit their ideal of the integrated, English-speaking, Westernized student.

    Administrators can act as gatekeepers, defining who should be at the school, who is valued, who gets selected to be on the school brochures—and who should not. 

    ... teachers blame the kids who don’t integrate as self-segregating

    At one PTA meeting with Korean parents, held with the help of a volunteer interpreter, Danau observed the administrator hinting that this international school might not be the right one for families and children who don’t try to fit in (i.e., stay segregated). The message was that these children and families were fully to blame for not integrating. 

    ▶Diversity defined by American view of “race”

    Why does one group get seen as ideal and the other not? Danau pointed out that race is the main measure of diversity in many countries where the predominantly Western administrators and teachers come from. 

    When they see a racially mixed group of students, they see those students as international and integrated.

    ...“everyone’s a TCK here…oh, except the Korean kids and Indonesian kids.”

    But the visible diversity may mask cultural similarity. A white American, a Black American, an Indian American, and a Pakistani American hanging out will look racially diverse but culturally, they all know how to operate in the Westernized way.

    Asian school children smiling and waving at the cameraConversely, racial similarities can mask differences. At the school where Danau conducted her research, the so-called Indonesian group was in fact a mix of Asian students from different countries, some who didn’t speak Indonesian.

    But because they all looked Asian, the teachers and other students thought of them as the Indonesians who were self-segregating.

    ▶Modeling behavior and language

    Teachers also often don’t model the desired behavior or language for the students.

    If a teacher shows they prefer to eat in the student cafeteria than in the staff lunchroom with local staff, as Danau saw in her research, or speak disparagingly of locals, as one Conversations participant put it, it’s not likely their students will learn to respect each other or show a genuine interest in the different cultures and peoples.

    ▶Curriculum, hiring practices

    Picture of Black female teacher writing on a white boardCurriculum content and hiring and professional development practices are also skewed to Western history, Western teachers, Western norms.

    As put by one white American teacher whom Danau interviewed:

    “And this is that whole idea of the hidden curriculum. It’s what we say we teach, which I believe we believe in and we’re trying to do, but by the very makeup of the institution, we are teaching this hidden agenda.... It’s not like anybody’s setting out to try to teach it, but it’s being taught because it’s our daily experience here…. I really believe that it’s an incredible [education] that we’re offering [here]…and the multiculturalism and all of those aspects that are powerful and good. But, there is this dark underbelly that isn’t being addressed there. I think it poisons the system….” (from Growing Up in Transit).

    Parents’ perspective

    International schools often claim that they are providing the services and education that parents want. Many parents want a Western-style “white” pathway, what they see as a ticket to success for their children, as one participant put it. 

    And so, as participants in the Conversation pointed out, the schools—many of which, make no mistake, are businesses—make sure to have mostly white teachers. International schools are not heavily regulated and are free to do as they see fit. 

    Image of sign post arrow

    Where to next?

    The current dominant model of internationalism in the schools is Western and everyone is expected to fit into that. Often, for a student to be “international,” they have to become Westernized to one degree or another. 

    As one participant pointed out, many of these international schools were originally set up in the 1960s/1970s for children of Western and white diplomats. The teachers were imported from the home countries to educate the children who would be continuing their studies in their home country. So these schools are in fact “Western” schools.

    ... visible diversity may mask cultural similarity. ... , racial similarities can mask differences.

    But to Westernize means students from other cultures and parts of the world are pressured to give up their culture and language—which form a part of their identities—to fit in. 

    Danau shared her vision for a different kind of integration, one that is not a one-way street.

    What if, she asked, everyone integrated with each other? If everyone tried to integrate into other communities and to learn more. 

    Maybe that would ease the pressure to become Westernized. That way, maybe students could integrate but still retain their home-culture identities.

    Appreciative inquiry: Strengths and capabilities

    It’s not easy to hear about these issues and to see how we can make changes. But we know that as individuals and as communities we have strengths and capabilities. 

    Research has shown that when we consider things from a strengths perspective, we can think more creatively and generate more solutions than if we considered things from a problem perspective.

    What if ... everyone integrated with each other? If everyone tried to integrate into other communities and to learn more. 

    Trisha encouraged everyone to reflect on our own strengths and how we have used those strengths in difficult situations in the past. Strengths such as the courage and ability to build connections between people, honesty, and humility.

    Recognizing our strengths can remind us that we can draw on them to move towards a better future. 

    Ideas for moving forward

    The Conversation concluded by brainstorming possible action points to move the agenda forward. Here are some of the ideas:

    ▶Accreditation bodies 

    • Take a stand and set accreditation standards and requirements for anti-racist hiring and curricular policies. Having tougher and clearer standards for hiring/curriculum could push international schools to change their operations.


    • Support student/recent-alumni-led initiatives, such as Organisation to Decolonise International Schools, globaledurising.org (see Resources section).

    ▶Schools, administrators, teachers

    • Spend time talking with the students. Provide safe spaces for them to have these difficult conversations. It’s powerful when students speak up.

    • It’s common to worry about students’ grades, but put the kids’ wellbeing first and foremost and affirm their identity needs. Where there’s no emotional stability, there can be no learning.

    • Be informed about up-to-date research on the needs of multilingual children and educate parents on the importance of teaching children the home language 

    • Don’t blame the parents for the system; take a stand. Use evidence on the impact on the wellbeing and self-esteem of students and offer that to the parents. 

    • Help teachers and administrators recognize their biases. It’s not that the teachers are purposefully trying to exclude kids or play favorites. Understanding their biases may help the adults model the behavior and language that they wish to see in their students. 

    • Western white teachers (especially male) may be offered more leadership opportunities, but consider whether any local teachers or teachers who are Black, indigenous or a person of color may have been overlooked despite being more qualified for the job. Bring to the attention of administration that due processes are needed not just for hiring/firing but for internal growth opportunities.

    ▶Parents, wider community, FIGT

    • Seek coalitions of the willing and dedicated. Hold conversations more broadly and with more people—within and outside international schools. 

    • FIGT, for example, could explore the topic further, possibly in focus groups, Affiliate discussions, and at FIGT2021. Ideas and feedback could be passed back to the leadership team and the Board.

    Trisha brought the session to a close by thanking all the participants for their curiosity and openness to learn and to share and to commit to being a part of the change we want to make happen. 

    FIGT will keep you informed about the next conversations and actions we will be taking from this.


    (In no particular order.) 


    • Tanu, Danau. Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2017. (Paperback release in December 2020 – visit the FIGT bookstore for a 25% discount code. Read more about Danau’s work.)

    • Tanu, Danau. “Educating global citizens?” Inside Indonesia, 4 October 2010. 

    • Meyer, Heather A. The Global Imaginary of International School Communities. Palgrave Macmillan (forthcoming). 

    ▶Articles, podcasts, videos from the community

    ▶Organizations and initiatives


    Profile pic of Dr Danau TanuDanau Tanu, PhD, is an anthropologist and the author of Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School—the first book on structural racism in international schools. She is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia and will be commencing as a Visiting Research Fellow at Waseda University in 2021. Danau is also a Co-Chair of the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Research Network Affiliate and a Co-Founder of TCKs of Asia.

    Trisha Carter is an organizational psychologist, working in the areas of cultural intelligence and cultural integration, building global skills and leadership capability, managing change, and developing resilience. She delivers training and coaching to a range of corporate and public sector organizations from her home base in Sydney, Australia.  She has served on the FIGT Board since October 2017. Contact her at secretary@figt.org. 

    If you’re not yet an FIGT member, we would love you to join us and be a part of our supportive, learning community of globally minded individuals around the world. Find out more at Membership.

    And please join us on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter and sign up to our newsletter to get updates!

    [Written and edited by Ema Naito, Danau Tanu & Trisha Carter]

  • 24 Sep 2020 11:51 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    The FIGT Annual Members Meeting went virtual for the first time ever, on 14 September 2020. President Dawn Bryan presented her annual report and future plans for FIGT.

    Blog title: Annual members meeting 2020, Looking back, Looking forward

    On 14 September 2020, FIGT held its first ever virtual Annual Members Meeting via Zoom. Normally, the annual meeting is held during the FIGT Conference but given the circumstances this year, the FIGT Board decided to take it virtual. 

    With 50 attendees joining in from 11 different time zones spanning the globe, the meeting—perhaps even unexpectedly—succeeded in recreating that familiar feeling of reunion FIGT members enjoy at the annual Conference. A special thank you to those who met us at 4 a.m. (Pacific Daylight Savings Time) and 11 p.m. (New Zealand Standard Time)! 

    In opening the meeting, FIGT President Dawn Bryan welcomed everyone and presented her Annual Report.

    [The following are the text from the slides. You can download the whole PDF here.]

    Summary of FIGT activities from March 2019 to today

    • First conference in Asia

    • Commitment by our Communications Team to make the conference last all year long. Since April 2019...

      • 11 Themes from “Coping with Difficult Times,” to “TCKs,” and “Hellos & Goodbyes, to Kindness”

      • Webinars, Interviews, Panel Talks, Blogs to go along with each theme

      • 40 pieces of content, more than 60 speakers

      • 8 Coffee and Connects

      • 2 Conversations for Change

    Growth of the online FIGT community

    • Facebook audience increased 30% to 5,743

    • LinkedIn audience increased 116% to 1,049

    • Newsletter list increased 5% to 2,497

    • Twitter audience has 6,029 followers

    Awards won

    • EMMAS: Highly Commended for Best Employee Benefits & Family Support

    • Think Relocate: Winner of Excellence in Employee or Family Support—the trophy is global, just like us! It has been travelling the world among FIGT members.

    World map and photos of the Think Relocate award being passed from location to location

    Conversations for Change

    Flyer of Conversations for Change on 14 July 2020, with LaShell Tinder and Ezinee Kwubiri

    (Read the report from the Conversations for Change with Ezinne and LaShell.)

    Flyer of Conversations for Change held on 29 July 2020 with Trisha Carter and Danau Tanu

    (Read the report from the Conversations for Change with Danau and Trisha.)

    Dawn acknowledged all those who keep FIGT going:

    Our Valued Sponsors

    List of FIGT sponsors: Summertime Publishing and Springtime Books, Cross Border Living, American Psychologist, Cross Border Financial Planning, Senia International

    • Platinum Sponsor Summertime Publishing and Springtime Books

    • Gold Sponsor CrossBorder Living

    • Silver Sponsors American Psychologist, Cross Border Financial Planning, and Senia International 

    • Plus Patron Sponsors

    Our Amazing Affiliates

    Map of the world with marks on locations where there are FIGT Affililates

    (The clouds are the shared-interest groups.)

    Our Valued Volunteers

    Whose activities include:

    • Board Members

    • Board Committee Members

    • Social Media

    • Blog Editing

    • Newsletter

    • Marketing

    • App

    • Affiliate Leaders

    • RFP Readers

    • Compliance

    • Emcees

    • Keynote Speakers

    • Presenters

    • Bookstore

    • Webinars

    • Website

    Our Valued Members: YOU!!!

    Our Board Directors

    • Dawn Bryan, President

    • Jodi Harris, Vice President

    • Trisha Carter, Secretary

    • LaShell Tinder, Treasurer

    • Vivian Chiona,* Affiliates

    • Anne Lessle,* Communications

    • Ginny Philps,* Communications

    • Tanya Crossman, Logistics

    • Mariam Ottimofiore, Membership

    • Megan Norton, Nominations

    • Valérie Besanceney,* Program

    • Anastasia Lijadi, Research and Education

    • Matilda Criel-Ewoldt, Scholarship

    • Linda Janssen,* Sponsorship

    Dawn personally thanked each of the five whom we are about to farewell from the Board (with * next to their names) and welcomed the following to take up their new terms in October:

    • Stephen Toole, Program

    • Flor Breton-Garcia, Communications

    • Petra Shellis, Communications

    • Emily Rogers, Affiliates

    • Sonja Lopez Arnak, Sponsorship

    A retirement on the horizon

    A heartfelt thanks also to Judy Rickatson, Board Administrator, as she nears her retirement. Judy has been the backbone of FIGT operations for many years in her current position and as a volunteer before that, and we wish her the very best.

    Looking Forward

    FIGT will continue to be powered by volunteers
    • New opportunities to volunteer
    • Opportunities for people to become members
    • Board Admin/Operations Role is open

    Treasurer LaShell Tinder then shared the organization’s fiscal report.

    Fiscal Outlook

    Revenue levers

    • Conference attendance: 2020 no conference; 2021 plan for virtual

    • Financial Support of Membership

      • 2019: 127 new members compared to 56 YTD in 2020; 

      • 2019: increase of 11% Jan - August; 2020 decrease of 11% Jan - August; 

      • Membership Drive early October to boost membership with a minimum goal of hitting 40 new members

    • Investment by Sponsors: 2020 70% of prior year’s $20K


    • Operating costs yearly: ~$27K comprised primarily of 1 staff member, data management, and professional services for financial reporting and compliance. Conference expenses covered by attendance fees.

    • Current holdings: ~$96,000 split into both checking and savings; financial health secured during successful conference in Thailand 2019

    • Risk areas: COVID-19 cancellation of 2020 conference; impact on membership and sponsorship with further impact expected for 2021 due to global recession

    Looking ahead

    • Virtual conference planned for 2021

    • Membership drive and expanding reach of the community

    • Sponsorship expanded offerings to include Rhodium and Palladium with continued focus on relationship building

    Further updates were shared about the Affiliates, the upcoming Membership drive, and Sponsorship.

    FIGT Affiliates

    The growth of the Affiliates over the past year and their activities has strengthened our presence throughout the world, both in location-based and virtual interest-based groups. These provide opportunities to extend our reach and offer support to a wider global community around the world, while welcoming more people into Membership.

    Opportunities to increase participation

    • First annual virtual meeting of Affiliate Leaders held on a regional basis due to no conference offering

    • Encourage all Affiliate supporters to become members of FIGT

    • Offering various virtual connection opportunities

    • Collegial based options with shared interest

    • Great opportunity to volunteer

    Membership Drive

    FIGT will be holding a Membership drive in the coming months.

    Key activities

    • Collaboration with communications for social media campaign

    • Current member engagement to share social media posts to extend reach

    • Video vignettes of Sponsors to showcase partnership with FIGT

    • Video vignettes of Members - “What is your reason for being a member?”

    • Highlight various levels and benefits to members

    • Friendly competition to encourage new memberships among Affiliates

    • What Does it Mean to be a FIGT Member?


    FIGT contributes to the globally mobile community in many ways, all of which make FIGT a worthwhile organization to support.


    • Connecting with others across the world who are members of the globally mobile tribe

    • Staying relevant with new virtual connections via Coffee & Connect, FIGT Focus, and Conversations for Change

    • Contributions by members to FIGT monthly Newsletter, Focus of the month, and social media

    • Connect locally through Affiliates or based on professional shared interest

    Knowledge Sharing

    • Volunteerism on FIGT committees and the board

    • Peruse past conference materials and access to a plethora of content

    • Contribute to the newsletter and blog (based on membership level)

    • Suggest new offerings through our online bookstore

    Financial Support and Investment to Sustain FIGT

    • Partner with and share in the story of FIGT’s ongoing success and growth

    • Be part of the change - support important issues that influence cultures

    • Building bridges through a shared commitment to broader cultural understanding and agility

    • Relationships built on trust and mutual benefit with a significant, growing quantifiable word of mouth reach

    The meeting concluded with reminders to sign up for the next Conversation for Change, while looking forward to the virtual conference in March 2021.

    Dawn thanked Ruth Van Reken, FIGT Founder, for joining us. Ruth thanked all of us in the FIGT community around the world for continuing the work she began 23 years ago, expressing her heartfelt gratitude for us as we feel for her and her work.


    • Download the presentation slides (PDF, 39MB)

    • If you would like to get a copy of the Financial Report, please contact LaShell (treasurer@figt.org).

    If you’re not yet an FIGT member, we would love you to join us and be a part of our supportive, learning community of globally minded individuals around the world. Find out more at Membership.

    And please join us on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter and sign up to our newsletter to get updates!

  • 21 Sep 2020 6:52 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    It's that time of year where we say farewell to some of our FIGT Board Directors. Thank you, Valérie Besanceney, Vivian Chiona, Linda Janssen, Dr Anne Lessle, and Ginny Philps, for your leadership.

    Blog title

    No matter what happens on its surface, our blue planet has made its journey around the sun once again and it’s time for the FIGT community to welcome new members to its Board and farewell those who are moving on.

    We asked the five departing Board members to reflect on their experiences on the Board and briefly introduce those who will be taking their place for the next two-year term.

    (The incoming Directors will be sharing more about themselves in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.)


    Affiliates Director

    Profile pic of Vivian ChionaVivian Chiona has served as Affiliates Director for the last two years, during which time FIGT’s Affiliate network has expanded considerably, including the new International Education Affiliate, and regional affiliates in Japan, Melbourne, and Germany.

    She recalls several proud moments as Director over the course of her two years in office. One of the most memorable was when she met other Affiliate leaders at FIGT 2019 “with hugs and thankful words.” She could feel that bond with the people she had worked so hard with for a whole year. “You could see their eyes sparkle.”

    She’s also proud to have achieved her goal to have 20 Affiliates. 

    “There are currently 17 and three others are in the pipeline. So I am going to step down knowing that, although there are not officially 20 yet, we are almost there. Beyond [the] numbers, what matters is that they are active Affiliates with a structure [that] ensures their sustainability in the long- term.”

    Vivian plans to continue being a part of the FIGT family and to contribute where she can. And she will continue to support expats through Expat Nest, the counselling service she founded some years ago that provides services in English, Greek, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Arabic...and more languages coming soon.

    Profile pic of Emily RogersEmily Rogers will step up as Affiliates Director. She’s a human-resources professional passionate about capability development and supporting people to become the best version of themselves. Emily is the founder of Expat Parenting Abroad, which supports parents in transition and finding their way while living abroad.


    Communications Co-Directors

    Profile pic of Dr. Anne LessleProfile pic of Ginny PhilpsDr. Anne Lessle and Ginny Philps have been Communications Co-Directors for the last two years. Under their leadership, FIGT has expanded its communications activity to include its monthly Focus series, bringing the type of content and exchange of ideas found at an FIGT conference to a wider audience and throughout the year.

    The most memorable moment for Anne during her tenure was when she travelled to London to “humbly receive the Think Relocate Award for FIGT in the category ‘best family support.’”

    After stepping down from the FIGT Director role, she’ll be busy following her passion as an equestrian coach in Australia.

    Ginny recalls her the most memorable/proudest moment as Director as helping to 

    “deliver a great conference in Bangkok in 2019 and seeing the caliber of the presenters, attendees, and content—and knowing that we are part of an incredible organization that is groundbreaking, generous, honest, and determined to widen the tent, to invite more diversity, more voices to the table.

    Recently having relocated to Rio de Janeiro, she’ll be working on building her profile and client base as a sustainability communications consultant while making the most of every minute living in the wonder of Rio!

    Pic of Flor Breton-Garcia The new Communications Co-Directors are Flor Breton-Garcia and Petra Shellis.

    Flor is an intercultural communication and language trainer who values working with different customs, standards, and social mores. She has experience as an expat, lawyer, educator, business director and entrepreneur. 

    Pic of Petra ShellisPetra is passionate about different cultures, personal development, and professional development and has experience in finance, branding, promotion, networking, and developing marketing strategies. She has been awarded a Commemorative Gold Coin for improving the relationships between foreigners and Chinese living in China. 


    Program Director

    Profile pic of Valérie Besanceney Valérie Besanceney has served as Program Director for the past two years, which included the unprecedented conference cancellation this year. Valerie will be remaining as Program Co-Director as we plan our virtual 2021 conference, a testament to her passion for and commitment to the FIGT community.

    Her proudest moment came as she observed the audience at FIGT2019 in Bangkok.

    “The tears, the smiles of resonance, the nodding, the laughter were all constant reminders of people feeling validated in the stories being shared. [It] reminded me that we were all connected by common threads, even though each of our stories was so incredibly unique.

    “When I first went to FIGT in 2015, I knew I had found my tribe. Today, I feel such a sense of pride in knowing that, together with an amazing group of Board members and other volunteers, I had the privilege of creating a conference that brought that experience of ‘feeling home’ to others.” 

    She also feels proud of

    “how resilient our Board proved to be when we had to cancel FIGT2020.... Not only did everybody help each other process this moment of loss, but I was also in awe of the creative, hands-on, and considerate responses from our community as we looked for alternative solutions.”

    As for the future, Valérie is on the board of Safe Passage Across of Networks, another organization she holds close to her heart as an educator and an ATCK, and she is excited to see where it is going. She and her husband have just started a small business teaching after-school activities in English in the Swiss Alps, where they live with their two young daughters. 

    Pic of Stephen TooleThe new Program Director is Stephen Toole, a career educator who has been teaching throughout the world for over 20 years. He first presented at FIGT in 2018 and has volunteered on the program committee for the past three years.

    Sponsorship Director

    Profile pic of Linda JanssenLinda Janssen served three years as the Sponsorship Director and was on the FIGT Board of Directors for five of the past six years. She is passionate about the work of the Board, which she calls “FIGT’s heart and soul.” 

    “The Board—individually and collectively—juggles the enormous tasks of updating the organization's purpose and mission in an ever-changing world, ensuring its financial foundation and fiscal health, and fueling growth to better reach, reflect, and serve our ever-expanding, globally mobile, cross-cultural community.

    “I've enjoyed the camaraderie and spirit of working with people who strive to improve the organization in every way. My primary focus has been enhancing sponsorship to seek partners who not only align with our mission, values, and service, but are also proud to invest in FIGT and grow in relationship with us. Beyond that, I'm probably most proud of pitching in and contributing whenever and wherever circumstances have required.

    “What's next? I look forward to expanding my resilience-focused coaching and training and finishing my second novel. But I'll definitely continue supporting FIGT through membership, participating in conference and other community events, and volunteering.”

    Pic of Dr. Sonja Lopez Arnak Dr. Sonja Lopez Arnak will be stepping up as the new Sponsorship Director. She teaches at a university in San Diego as well as Teach-Now in Washington, DC, and has worked as a teacher and administrator in schools in multiple countries. For the past ten years, Sonja has been working with online education, including course design, pedagogy and faculty training. 

    Thank you once again, Vivian, Anne, Ginny, Valérie, and Linda, for all that you’ve given to the FIGT community. The organization would not be where it is without your time, enthusiasm, skills, and experiences. Best wishes for your next endeavors! And welcome on board to those of you who’ve committed to lead us for the next two years!

    The new Directors will be sharing more about themselves in upcoming posts. Please join us on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter and sign up to our newsletter to get updates!

  • 17 Sep 2020 6:09 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    FIGT Patron Sponsors Globally Grounded and Resilient Global Transitions recently renewed as Patron Sponsors, while Porch joined us this past year.

    Title of blog, Thanking more Patron Sponsors

    Families in Global Transition is deeply appreciative of all of its sponsors. Two Patron Sponsors who recently renewed their digital sponsorship tell us a little bit about themselves, and why they choose to support FIGT and its global community. 

    Globally Grounded logoGlobally Grounded is a consultancy company dedicated to equipping students crossing cultures, their families, and those who educate them to effectively navigate the triumphs and trials associated with living and learning amidst diverse domestic and international cultures.

    Through its three priorities of schools (international and local, day and boarding), families, and research, Globally Grounded is driven to improving the emotional, social, and educational outcomes for cross-cultural learners so that living and learning between and among cultures is not an inhibitor but an enhancer of learning for all. 

    “I travelled across 9 time zones to attend my first FIGT conference and walked into a room where I knew not a single soul. Within three days I had found a home where I could be authentic, understood, valued and allowed to grow. Over the past four years, it’s where I’ve made lifelong friends and professional partnerships beyond my wildest imagination.

    “Sponsoring FIGT is my way of saying ‘thank you’ and ensuring that the community, organisation and its mission continue to flourish.”

    — Jane Barron, Founder of Globally Grounded

     Resilient Global Transitions

    Linda A. Janssen is a Resilience, Cross-Cultural & Transformative Leadership coach, trainer, and consultant whose business Resilient Global Transitions focuses primarily on resilience, intercultural communication, transitions, identity, and change.

    Linda has spent most of her internationally-focused career working with global, transnational, and cross-cultural issues across four sectors: public, private, non-profit and entrepreneurial.

    She employs her own resilience-enhancing framework of tools, tactics, and best practices to help her clients ‒ Fortune 500 businesses, global mobility companies, international executives and their families ‒ meet the challenges of professional and personal transition while dealing with cross-cultural complexity, challenge and change.

    She is the author of The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures.


    FIGT is uniquely situated to bring together in conversation, connection, and community an amazing tribe of current, past, and aspiring global nomads interested in the latest topics, trends, and research to support and enhance cross-cultural life. I’m proud to invest as a digital sponsor in FIGT and its continued growth and ongoing success.”

    — Linda A. Janssen, Resilient Global Transitions, Janssen Consulting Group LLC


    Porch. Love your home. For moving and improving, and everything in between.

    From the time you move in, we are here for you. Any time, every project, each step of the way.

    Porch services is an easy and reliable way to get home projects done. Find nearly any type of home professional for home repair, maintenance, and improvement project. 

    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 Sep 2020 2:14 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    The FIGT Focus for September 2020 is kindness. Now, more than ever, we need to be kind to ourselves, before we can be kind to others.

    Title of the blog. FIGT Focus September 2020 Kindness

    This has been an extraordinary year. We know that many in our community and beyond are struggling and hurting. There are families who are separated; who are stuck geographically, emotionally, and psychologically as a result of the pandemic. There is uncertainty in our lives like never before.

    This year more than ever we also know that there are many who live with the daily impact of prejudice and bias. There are hard and difficult conversations that we all need to have.

    In the face of this, focusing on kindness might seem a little insignificant. Sometimes, kindness is perceived in the same way the word “nice” is in the English language—rather bland and wishy-washy.

    But kindness is more than that.

    Kindness is something active. Kindness brings change.

    It’s intentional, practiced, and heartfelt. It is driven by a care for and a desire to give to others, often before ourselves.

    In drawing on our resources to deal with everything this year has thrown at us so far, there’s a danger that our emotional reserves become so depleted that thinking of ways to be kind to others might seem beyond our reach.

    So this month, let's remember, as Cath Brew from Drawn to a Story points out:

    The 'i' in kindness isn't silent. You matter too.

    The “I” in kindness isn’t silent.

    When it comes to being kind, you matter too.

    Show yourself some generosity of spirit this month. Check on your own wellbeing, find a way to refuel. As travel has taught us, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first.

    Because if we want a kinder world for everyone, then the “I” in kindness cannot be silent.

    We need to have strength to be kind to others.

    Our voices need to be heard, in our family, in our community, our workplace. Because to be kind drives change, for you and those around you. You and your actions matter too.

    This month we will be sharing some practical ways to be kind to yourself, some thoughts on kindness within a family, and what it means to be kind in our community.

    We will also be talking about how we move forward as a community in terms of equity and inclusion in our next “Conversation for Change.”

    We hope you’ll join us.

    Upcoming conversations

    To access the content (other than the above two webinars, which are open to all):
    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.

    If you would like to add your voice to this conversation, please contact Sarah at social-lead@figt.org

  • 24 Aug 2020 5:39 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Children of Deaf adults (Codas) grow up between worlds just as traditional Third Culture Kids do. A FIGT Research Affiliate webinar on 24 July explored how, with Erin Mellett and Alexander Laferrière.

    Blog title: FIGT research network affiliate - Children of Deaf adults as third culture kids

    The FIGT Research Network (FRN) Affiliate held an online seminar on 24 July 2020 with Erin Mellett and Alexander Laferrière to discuss the similarities between hearing children of Deaf adults (Codas) and traditional, internationally-mobile Third Culture Kids (TCKs), and to examine how the Coda experience might expand and enrich our understanding of the “third culture.” Sarah Gonzales, Co-Chair of the FIGT Research Network, hosted the event.

    [NB: In general, “deaf” refers to the biological condition of not hearing while “Deaf” refers to a group of deaf people who share a culture. Please visit the link in Resources for more on this.]

    Codas and TCKs: Growing up among worlds

    Erin, a PhD candidate in anthropology, began by explaining that Codas—born to and raised by Deaf parents—grow up in the Deaf world, yet their ability to hear puts them in a unique position between the hearing and Deaf worlds. Through her 2016 master’s project at Boston University, Erin sought to understand Codas as inhabitants of both (or neither) the Deaf and hearing worlds (see Resources for a link to her thesis).

    Despite being biological relatives of Deaf people and being raised by them, Codas lack the biological feature (deafness) necessary to be considered completely part of the Deaf community. At the same time, Codas don’t feel as though they belong to the hearing world either—citing distinctly “Deaf” ways of being that don’t mesh with hearing culture.

    Robert Hoffmeister, professor of Deaf Studies at Boston University and himself a Coda, explains in Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking (2007):

    ...all Codas grow up in two worlds, the Deaf world of their families and the Hearing world. Every Coda leads two lives: one as Codas and one as a hearing person. They may choose to only live one life, but all of them have two.

    Like traditional TCKs, Codas spend their childhoods “growing up among worlds.”

    In fact, it was Erin’s Coda research participants who introduced her to the concept of TCKs and who told her that they felt a sense of affinity to people like TCKs.

    A table comparing TCKs and Codas. For TCKS: “Raised in a neither/nor world. It is neither fully the world of their parents’ culture (or culture) nor fully the world of the other culture (or cultures) in which they were raised” (Pollock & Van Reken 2009, 4). “Sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background” (Pollock & Van Reken 2009, 13). For Codas: It is neither fully the world of their Deaf parents’ culture nor fully the world of the hearing culture that surrounds them. Codas have developed a sense of belonging to each other; and they have established and utilized Coda organizations as spaces of identity transformation and community construction.

    Both Codas and traditional TCKs have connections to multiple cultures while not fully claiming membership in any. Codas don’t fully belong to their Deaf parents’ culture nor the hearing culture that surrounds them.

    Both feel a sense of belonging with others who share a similar background. For example, Codas have built a community through organizations like CODA International, where they have the space to explore their identities. 

    Codas can be considered a type of cross-cultural kid (CCK), like children of immigrants or international adoptees, who don’t fit the classic definition of internationally-mobile TCKs. 

    Both Codas and traditional TCKs have connections to multiple cultures while not fully claiming membership in any.

    However, inspired by FRN’s seminar series (in particular, FRN Co-Chair Danau Tanu’s provocations), Erin suggested that instead of trying to determine whether or not Codas are TCKs or CCKs, it may be more useful to look at the third culture (or interstitial culture) as an analytical concept and to ask: how might Codas’ experience of the third culture be unique?

    Erin explained that for Codas, biology (i.e., whether one can hear or not) is integrally linked to cultural affiliation (i.e., Deaf versus hearing). As biological relatives, but not biologically deaf themselves, Codas do not feel as though they can truly claim their parents’ culture—no matter how intimately they know its language and customs. 

    This means that the space of the third culture—the community Codas create with each other—becomes even more important as Codas try to establish their sense of belonging.

    One Coda’s “me-search”

    Following Erin’s talk, Alexander Laferrière—a Coda—shared his experiences with CODA International and coming to understand his own identity as Coda.

    Finding this Coda identity helped him recognize that “there is value to my experience”

    Alex comes from a large Deaf family that includes parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who are Deaf; he grew up with sign language as his home language. But Alex didn’t realize that his experiences had a name until he was introduced as an adult—purely by chance—to the term “Coda.” 

    Finding this Coda identity helped him recognize that “there is value to my experience and if I could channel it or pursue it, it would be valuable for our community.”

    Now, he tells stories through film to define, refine, and spotlight the Coda culture. He is also passionate about promoting broader awareness and acceptance of sign language as an important medium for communication.

    As part of his “me-search,” Alex created a film asking other Codas what CODA International conferences mean to them (see the film under References). The way Codas describe CODA International conferences are strikingly similar to how traditional TCKs describe meeting each other in FIGT conferences.

    Other perspectives from the floor

    During the discussion session, Oya Ataman, a multilingual sign language interpreter, shared her perspective as a German Coda of Turkish descent. Oya was the first to alert Dr Ruth Van Reken about the need to include the experiences of Coda in Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds and is featured in the 3rd edition of the book.

    Oya urged us to take more time to consider the vast similarities between Codas and expat TCKs, immigrant children, and so on, to avoid the trap of feeling “terminally unique,” a sense of feeling that one is “so different no one else in the world can understand them” (from Third Culture Kids, 3rd ed.).

    She suggested that the experiences of Codas from culturally or ethnically diverse backgrounds may shed more light on the ways in which Codas are similar to other groups that experience that interstitial, third culture in childhood.

    Marilyn Gardner, a public health nurse and writer, asked a question that further highlighted the intersectionality of many of these third culture experiences. A Russian family known to Marilyn immigrated to the US several years ago. She asks: “The parents are deaf and the children are hearing, but the parents only understand Russian and Russian sign language. The children end up being their primary interpreters in social settings—how can we support them?”

    Clearly, there is more that we need to learn about new ways of living in the third culture.

    * Our thanks to Erin Mellett for funding the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for the seminar and to the Rhode Island Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (RICDHH) for providing the interpreters.



    Hoffmeister, Robert. 2008. “Border Crossings by Hearing Children of Deaf Parents: The Lost History of Codas” In Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking, edited by H-Dirksen L. Bauman, 189-215. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

    Mellet, Erin. 2016. “Cochlear implants and codas: the impact of a technology on a community,” Boston University School of Medicine.

    Pollock, David C. and Ruth E. Van Reken. 2009. Third Culture Kids: The Experiences of Growing up among Worlds. Boston, MA: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

    Preston, Paul. 1994. Mother Father Deaf: Living Between Sound and Silence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Preston, Paul. 1995. “Mother Father Deaf: The Heritage of Difference.” Social Science Med 40(11): 1461-1467.

    Preston, Paul. 1996. “Chameleon voices: Interpreting for deaf parents.” Social Science and Medicine 42(12): 1681–1690.


    Photo of Erin MellettErin Mellett, MS, is a PhD candidate in the Anthropology department at Brown University. She obtained a Master of Science in Medical Anthropology from Boston University School of Medicine in 2016. Erin's research interests include Deafness and the Deaf community, disability studies, language, and belonging. Erin's current and ongoing dissertation research with deaf immigrants in the United States sits at the intersection of a number of fields including medical anthropology, Deaf studies, disability studies, linguistic anthropology, and immigration studies.

    Photo of Alexander Laferrière Alexander Laferrière, MPA, is a third-generation American Sign Language user within a large Deaf family. Alexander’s background and passion have led him to work professionally with the global Deaf community in the intersection between government, policy, and media through CODA International. His expertise in interactive media, coupled with his master’s studies in Public Affairs has allowed him to create films and policy recommendations for various communities around the world, from Providence, Rhode Island, to Moyobamba, Peru.

    Photo of Sarah Gonzales Sarah Gonzales is Director of Graduate Programs at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) School of Law. She also serves at NAFSA: Association for International Educators, teaching Intercultural Communication in Practice, Admissions and Placement of International Students, and Assessment and Evaluation for International Educators. Sarah is currently pursuing doctoral research on the intersection of cultural intelligence and mediation skills of TCKs. She is Co-Chair of the FIGT Research Network.

    [Edited by Danau Tanu and Ema Naito]

  • 17 Aug 2020 12:45 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Globally mobile people experience privilege in myriad ways. Change agent Ezinne Kwubiri challenged us—at FIGT's first Conversation for Change—to face up to social injustices and to “keep the conversation going!”

    Blog title: global mobility and organizations

    On 14 July 2020, FIGT held the first of its Conversations for Change, with guest Ezinne Kwubiri, North America Inclusion and Diversity Manager at H&M, and hosted by FIGT Treasurer, LaShell Tinder, who is also a colleague of Ezinne’s and is the North America Global Mobility Manager.

    These Conversations are part of FIGT’s efforts to examine our privilege and to explore how our community might respond to racism, inequities, disparities, and discrimination around the world—particularly focusing on our globally mobile and cross-cultural community.

    Reflecting on our labels

    In our daily lives, we come across different words that point to people on the move. LaShell started by asking what we think of when we see/hear the following labels:

    • Refugee
    • Migrant
    • Immigrant
    • Expatriate

    Most likely, we make assumptions about each “type” of mobile person, such as by associating them with a particular socioeconomic status. For example, a refugee might conjure up an image of someone who is in need, often from a lower socioeconomic class.

    But we also recognize that those assumptions can be wrong. A refugee may have funds, be educated, have their networks. They may have been heads of companies or professors in their countries but because of their displacement, are working in low-skilled jobs for which they are overqualified.

    Terminology: definitions of a Refugee: someone who is unwilling to return to their home/passport country out of fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership of a particular social group or political group. Migrant: person who moves from place to place in search of better living conditions. Immigrant: person who moves to a foreign country to live there permanently. Expatriate: individual who lives outside their native or passport country

    [Note: Asylum seeker = someone who is seeking asylum. Refugee = an asylum seeker who the UNHCR has officially recognized as a refugee.]

    It’s not always easy to classify ourselves with just these four words. You may ask: “If I’m locally hired and not on a big expat package, am I still an ‘expat’?” “I’m a TCK but is that different from being an immigrant kid?”

    Other terms like “trailing spouse,” “accompanying spouse,” and “lovepat” reflect how terminology can convey different kinds of assumptions—and how the words we use can change.

    The realities are not as clear cut as the terminology may suggest. Ezinne and LaShell reminded us to think about what other references people are thinking about when using these words.

    “We may be creating social, racial distancing with the words we use,” says LaShell. Ezinne concurs: “We have to be cautious with our words, that we’re not excluding or idolizing particular groups.”

    Reflecting on privilege

    Privilege—or lack thereof—is an inherent part of our assumptions for these labels. Just think about the word “expats,” which many of us probably call ourselves. To be an expat hints at a relatively privileged economic status, even if we know individual circumstances can be quite diverse.

    Privilege: There are many faces of privilege – accessibility to opportunity is but one of them. English – predominate language directly influences economic opportunity Internet penetration and availability of technology – comparison of virtual learning classroom during COVID-19 for under-served school districts and way of life for children in underdeveloped nations

    Privilege doesn’t only refer to economic status. It may come from our ability to speak English fluently or from easy access to the Internet and technology. Having dual citizenship could be another form of privilege. Growing up in Nigeria as a white child could mean always having the soccer ball—a small but real form of privilege for a child. 

    The ability to choose or to exercise control over our circumstances, having the confidence that our voices will be heard—these are all forms of privilege. 

    Not having to think about our privilege is, in itself, a sign of privilege.

    Ezinne notes that even people from marginalized groups can have a sense of privilege. Ezinne immigrated to the US and she’s a black woman. So in these aspects—especially in corporate America—she’s part of the marginalized population. But she also went to an enabling university and has had great jobs, she’s able to travel around the world, and she’s in the position to advocate for other people. These are her privileges.

    What can we do with our privilege

    Ezinne explains: “Identifying one’s privilege is the core of breaking inequality and social injustice and shaping a space for diversity and inclusion. In order for you to support and advocate for others, you have to recognize how you are different from them and how you’re benefiting from that difference.”

    Having someone suggest that we are privileged can be uncomfortable. This is why FIGT hopes these Conversations for Change will help bring people along to step out of our comfort zones and to go on this journey together.

    Once we acknowledge our own privilege, we can then think about what we are doing with the privilege that we have. We can then ask, as LaShell did, “If we are in the privileged group, how can we be part of the change?”

    As an example, Ezinne refers to the reopening of schools under the COVID-19 pandemic. Some families may have the choice to keep their children home. But for other families, that’s not a viable option: the parents may need to work full time and cannot pay for childcare at home; some children may count on school for meals.

    The response then needs to take into account all these differences, with an awareness of what privileges we may be taking for granted, and come up with a model that supports the underprivileged.

    If you want to use your privilege to educate others, Ezinne suggests that we continue:

    1. Having courageous conversations

    2. Sharing our stories. Give clear examples because people can relate to those stories better.

    Other thoughts: Gender and freedom of mobility agility

    LaShell leaves us with two more aspects of mobility and privilege to ponder.

    Privilege: There are many faces of privilege – accessibility to opportunity is but one of them. English – predominate language directly influences economic opportunity Internet penetration and availability of technology – comparison of virtual learning classroom during COVID-19 for under-served school districts and way of life for children in underdeveloped nations

    Gender equality and mobility

    How often do we pull ourselves back, as women? Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to take a chance and let everyone support us.

    Freedom of mobility agility: How do we think about equity of employment and the freedom of mobility agility – whether it is staying in one’s home, working remotely, or being a frontline worker?

    Freedom of mobility agility

    How do we think about equity of employment and the freedom of mobility agility—whether it is staying in one’s home, working remotely, or being a frontline worker?


    We conclude with some words from Ezinne:

    “We need to call [social injustices] out and face the change. If we don’t talk about it, we won’t feel like there’s anything to be done. Let’s keep the conversation going!”


    [The video of the discussion will be posted at a later time. Please join us on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter to receive updates.]


    Photo of Ezinne KwubiriEzinne Kwubiri is a change agent, diversity leader, innovator, and ally. Her career began in the financial services industry and quickly moved to media and entertainment, including 11 years at Viacom Media Networks (MTV), where she worked on change management, diversity and inclusion, and employee engagement.

    She is now North America Inclusion and Diversity Manager at H&M, the first in this role. As a board member of the organization She’s the First and a volunteer for other non-profit organizations that serve underrepresented communities, Ezinne uses her influence to empower these groups.

    Her world view is one that upholds the values that mandate equality, access, and opportunity for all humanity. Ezinne was scheduled to be a Keynote Speaker at FIGT2020.

    Photo of LaShell TinderLaShell Tinder has both personal and professional experience in relocation that spans three decades. As an accompanying spouse for 11 years, LaShell raised three TCKs who were born in the US, Belgium, and Venezuela.

    She began her work in mobility helping accompanying spouses/partners as a career/transition coach before moving into relocation management for relocation management companies and corporations.

    LaShell lived in Sweden for 8 months while on a short-term assignment. This experience gave her new insight into saying “yes” as a woman to promote one’s own career.

    Currently, she is the North America Global Mobility Manager at H&M. LaShell has served on the FIGT Board as Treasurer since October 2019.


    “Conversations for Change” is a short series of virtual discussions, open to all in our community. Each meeting will begin with a short presentation to stimulate our thinking and will then open for conversation. Our goal is for each discussion to be a starting point for individuals with a heart to work towards change.

    [Written and edited by Ema Naito with Sarah Black]

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