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Monday, 16 April 2012

Senior Gap year: Florida on My Mind

Someone in my family, namely my maternal grandfather, has always been on their way to Florida. I knew Granddad had once or twice made his way from North Carolina down through South Carolina and into Georgia and then on down the east coast to Fort Lauderdale. On our Carolina fishing trips he would tell me the tales of great Florida fishing. My grandmother; however, would make noises in the kitchen while cleaning any fish we caught and say, "you just can't get good catfish in Florida. And they have malaria infested mosquitoes there," which meant she was most definitely not going to visit towns with exotic names of Palm Beach or Boca Raton, much less live there.

I spent many a high school class drawing palm trees and waves, and humming a little tune of "Little Surfer Girl"between classes. Beach Boys vied for space between the Beatles in my songs of deliverance from homework. "Some day," I said to myself, "someday the beach will be my life."

My dad was one of those adventurers that believed "like charity, adventure begins at home;" and so one day he announced that the whole family would be travelling from Washington,DC (place of my birth and childhood) to California for our vacation.We were going to see the USA!Was I dying and going to heaven! I was sixteen and could help with the driving across the prairie, the forests, the dessert land of the Mojave; but most importantly to me, I could surf. "Malibu here I come!" I announced on the last day of my sophomore year of high school.

And what a summer it was. Too many fun times to tell here; but one disappointment on this trip changed the direction of my life. On my very first morning in California, I woke up in my aunt and uncle's US Navy off base apartment, raring to get to the beach and check the surf...........only to find the fog.

"It will clear, " my aunt said.
"When? " I asked, clearly devastated. It was eight am and I wanted to see where I could rent one of the big boards.
"The sun usually clears the smog around eleven."
"Every morning?"
"Just about every morning."

That was it for California for me. I was and still am a morning person. I wanted waves crashing in sunlight at sunrise; and while I had a blast on this family adventure of sleeping in caves and speeding through LasVegas, my next stop in this Senior Gap Year is celebrating that finally someone in the family- me- got to Florida!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Senior Gap Year: Friday Night Special

Reflecting on the Families in Global Transition Conference this past weekend; I realised that on Friday night I just "hit the wall," so to speak. I had enjoyed giving my talk on Levels of Relocation on Thursday, where I related retirement to the type of cultural transition us expats have been doing for a good part of our lives. Then on Friday afternoon I spoke at what FIGT (Families in Global Transition) call the Kitchen Table, describing the retirement age as the "Sage Stage" of life. Relieved at the good response I had at these talks, as speaking based on my writing is still a new feature of my work, I relaxed and went out to dinner with some new friends from the FIGT Social Research Group.

Over fish and chips and hamburgers, six researchers related some of the work they had been doing. I was particularly interested in what one of the older women, a professor, was telling us about the history of research into third culture "kids."
I later related to her the story of how Ruth Renken and David Pollock had come to London in the eighties and spoke on global parenting. I had travelled two hours to hear them speak.
"I was so grateful for Ruth and David," I said, reflecting on how I had raised two children in a culture not my own and global parenting advice was few and hap-hazard. I loved my German mother in law, but she was the first to admit she had never figured out English culture and had sent my husband to a British Army boarding school in Germany. My own mother could help me with American Thanksgiving menus (and for this I was thankful!)- but no one could help me with the mix of cultures and how I could raise children successfully in the cultural mix I now found myself. Most days I just wanted to find a yellow school bus and put us all on it!

I mentioned to this lovely history professor (they never retire) that David and Ruth had been most helpful to me in that through their work I discovered I, too, was a third culture child. "My dad was from Arkansas-Texas family and my mother was a North Carolina farm girl-both parents trying to raise kids in the city of Washington, DC. South meeting North (sort of)." 
I explained how this understanding of my own upbringing gave me a since of culture to pass on, as I had seen my mother struggle to bring the south into an essentially northern community. Some days it worked, and some days it did not. Still, I learned from her. That learning formed the basis of passing a cultural mix down to the next generation, and encouraged me to do just that....sharing, explaining, respecting culture in a way that would open a world to my children.
"We don't accept Ruth and David's definition," said the professor.
You could have slapped me across the face. 
I managed to hold it together until I got back to the hotel where the conference was then showing a film made by young FIGT members, called "Neither Here, Nor There." 

Then the tears came. Maybe I was just tired, having moved from the UK to the USA two weeks earlier, for an eight month Senior Gap Year (see most recent blog entry). I couldn't figure out the wall I was hitting.
It has taken me until now to realise that I had landed myself smack dab in the middle of a sociological war. This fighting over basic premises is where people power-up themselves to get tenure, or land a job. I should know that. I have a master's degree in Social Policy, but I didn't see it coming. To me, what Ruth and David had said that day in the basement Fellowship Hall of the American Church in London was personal. I was simply the young mom/mum who didn't know what to do, how to sing a song to my kids in a strange land.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Senior Gap Year

This blog is about to take on a new format.At least for awhile, I intend to focus on the journey I am making home to America. It is a home I have visited more recently over the years, but this year I am going to America with a particular purpose: Senior Gap Year

I believe Gap Year started with the Australians, though most of them seemed to call it "Walk About" years ago. Their young people would head out to travel around Europe and extending on to various parts of the world. British young people began to return the favour and head down under, or to various places in Africa or the Middle East. Both of my children (quarter English/quarter German/half American but raised in the UK) went on their own personal Gap Years.

Gap Year serves the purpose of taking a year off after uni graduation and getting out to see the world, while avoiding questions such as, "What do you plan to DO (read "work") after uni?" It gives them time to think/process what they have learned and just get away from it all while they try to figure out the next step in life.

Now as I have hit the retirement time of life, I am going to take what I am calling a Senior Gap Year to think through what I want to do at my own time of transition. My husband and I will travel together, but he is on a different journey. I am on a journey to discover my country of origin at this stage of life, and to revisit places significant in my childhood. He just wants to see more of America than was possible when visiting on business trips.

It is my intention to blog this journey, reflecting on what I discover over an eight month period. While we moved over to the States two weeks ago, we simply unpacked and then I headed to my place of birth (Washington, DC) to the Families in Global Transition Conference. These people at FIGT are "my tribe." People here this weekend are people who also live life of living and/or raising their children in a culture not their own. We share stories. Many are stories no one outside the tribe wants to hear, but we listen intently and validate identity as an expat.

It will take time to process all I have learned this weekend; about myself, about being a writer and becoming a speaker but I have been encouraged here-and that is a great start to any journey. A very big thank you to all who worked heard to make Families in Global Transition Conference 2012 a great success. It is sad to leave the tribal meeting, but I give thanks that I have heard and shared stories and know so much more of the richness we all bring to this world.