What compels us? Once a year, many of us step away from our day-to-day lives, fly from all corners of the globe, and reconvene with this diverse global family that is FIGT.
It’s many things – friendships, insights, connections, research, knowledge, wisdom and inspiration.
Yet on day one in Bangkok, this year’s destination for the FIGT2019 conference, the co-founder of Families in Global Transitions reminded us that it isn’t enough to only return to our often complex and unique lives. Once there, we have to ‘show up.’
“We are the players in the field,” Ruth Van Reken told us. “We are not the stand-ins.”
This simple metaphor resonated with me… I think I might know why.
After recently spending a rare, continuous six-months in my home country – after 29 years in 9 different countries – I know how tempting it is to put that ‘global self’ into a jar, hide it away on a shelf, then do your best to blend in.
Yet when we live a life that embraces cultures and borders, languages and diversities, experiences and challenges, we gather a unique skill set that perhaps allows us to be those ‘players’.
Ruth Van Reken’s seemingly simple metaphor was in essence this year’s mantra, CONNECT – LEAD – CHANGE.
Ruth, who on May 11th will become Dr. Van Reken in recognition for her trail-blazing work with cross cultures and third culture kids, is an example of how an idea can germinate, become a reality, then shape and influence many.
Twenty-one years ago, she and three others gathered around a kitchen table in Indianapolis for the first FIGT conference. An American who grew up in Nigeria, then raised her own children in Liberia, Ruth knew there might be others like her. People who because of a rich and varied, but not always an easy overseas life, had a unique perspective of the world. Today, FIGT has eleven global affliates – 4 each in the US and Europe, 1 in Brazil and 2 in Asia.
Run entirely by dedicated volunteers, often on Skype calls in multiple time zones, this organisation is resourceful, enriching, and welcoming. And wonderfully, this year’s move from The Hague to Bangkok, not only attracted many of us committed members, but also first-time attendees who represented some sixty-percent of the attendees. The unanimous sentiment was that they had been challenged, informed, inspired, and were leaving with an expanded and enriched network.
And many of these people do not just ‘stand on the side-lines.’ Along with transitioning their own families to new countries, they might volunteer, start a new charity or NGO, or use their expertise in an entirely new direction… often breaking down culture barriers while doing so.
One of our dynamic Keynote Speakers, Caleb Meakins, listened to his instincts and entreated us to help change the world. If it sounds cliche, don’t tell that to this young socially-conscious entrepreneur. Caleb the son of a British father and an Ethiopian mother, loved the dynamic of being a third culture kid (TCK). After a Masters degree in Civil Engineering in the UK, he felt a strong pull to Ethiopia where he had been raised.
“There is something rich to take from both cultures, but I felt drawn to return. We’re more equipped because of our awareness and experiences… often the people who have lived in various global environments come up with the best solutions.”
In Addis Ababa, Caleb founded Bake and Brew, a hub of creativity that also pays homage to the birth place of coffee. He’s created a mella – a space for leaders to network and to be inspired by a new generation of role models.
“Step out and do something,” he implored. And, “What would you do if you could not fail?”
For some of us it may be much more simple, such as writing about our global experiences. The evening before the conference, we gathered in a beautiful rooftop setting for the launch of Mariam Navaid Ottimofiore’s new book, This Messy Mobile Life. Mariam also uses a metaphor to weave the experiences of her family’s multi-cultural, multi-lingual, global life.
To Mariam, a ‘mola’, a unique piece of South American clothing, is like the weaving of a global life. “It represents who you are and allows you to ‘show your lining’ to the world. Sometimes, it is painful to show certain parts of your story: some layers hide beneath others and resurface when you least expect it. Some cuts are difficult… others are easier and seamlessly incorporate into your overall design.”
As Mariam and I breakfast late this morning, we discuss our books and our support for each other’s projects. As ever, the global tribe of FIGT is unfailing supportive of new endeavours and accomplishments. I mention how overwhelmed I had been by the positive responses for Monday Morning Emails. How it is being recommended both personally and also by school counsellors. And how great it was to finally meet Ian Moody, one of the Experts who contributed to our book… along with the soon to be, Dr. Ruth Van Reken.
Mariam then reveals something that affirms what both Ruth and Caleb had shared. The thought that we can bring about change, on a large scale or maybe just on a more personal level… if we take the chance to ‘play and not only be a stand-in’.
“I’ve been sharing my copy of Monday Morning Emails,” the proud new author tells me with a smile. “Seven mothers thus far… we only have one book store where I live in Ghana, we need resources.”
I then smile wide. Just as Mariam’s insightful new book will soon be doing, it’s the knowledge of having a positive impact, of perhaps making a difference in this ever-changing world.
And it’s the image of an MME being shared to and fro in Africa… that’s a lot to smile about on this Monday morning!