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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.

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