Monday, November 28, 2016

Share Your Story

The room was full of people chatting and laughing, checking their phones and searching for people they knew. And I sat there quietly listening. Here was a room full of people who were dedicated to people like me.

It's a strange thing to sit and listen to people talk about you without realizing they are talking about you. But that is what I did all this last week. I went to an entire week dedicated to educating kids at international schools, meaning educating international kids which often means TCKs (with the good ol' CCK, Cross Culture Kid, mixed in). So on the one hand, I was listening to ways that I could do my job better, talking and interacting and teaching TCKs, but on the other hand, I was listening to people talk about me. I was listening to people talk about how to best deal with that strong-willed child (me). I was listening to people talk about the issues that come up with international kids (me). I was listening to stories of adjustments and problems in schools (just like mine). It was strange.

High School Maia. Not much has changed.
At one point I was sitting at a table with several other people who work in the international education world and we were asked to answer the question of whether our job was a career or a calling. Was this our job or our heart? We ran out of time so I didn't get to answer and, honestly, I was a little bit relieved. As I sat and waited for my turn I began to realize that this isn't just my career, this isn't just my calling, this is my life. My life is international school. My life is international kid. I have and am living those things they were talking about and theorizing about.

And as I sat in that room full of people I knew that there were several other people with whom, the thing that they are doing isn't their career or their calling, it is their life. A TCK stood up to talk about how international schooling prepared him for the world and he thanked all those people who were dedicated to shaping people like him and my eyes teared up. I glanced over to another TCK I know and his eyes were teared up too. Because while the people sitting next to me were there and dedicated to TCKs, there were some of us in that room that were the TCKs.

I've always intended this blog, this space, to be the start of a conversation. The hope being that a TCK will read here words that speak to a part of them that may have been silenced or may have been forgotten or may have just felt too different, and suddenly awaken a very important part of who they are and validate that in them. The other hope being that the nonTCK will read this and begin to ask themselves if the TCKs around them see the world the same way and maybe venture out to ask the TCK about their life, about their worldview, about who they really are.

I once talked to someone that told me that I was the first TCK they had ever met and I told them that I didn't think it was true. There are TCKs everywhere. You might not realize that's what they are (we are pretty good at blending in when we want to). There are some people who might not want to admit that that is what they are (a lot of TCKs work hard to be "normal"). But whether you know it, or they admit it, or not, it is a part of their story. It has shaped them and how they think.

And honestly, I think that was the best part of the conference I was at. Over and over I got to hear TCKs tell how international education shaped their story, which means I got to hear the TCK's story told over and over. I got to tell my story over and over, maybe not in completion but definitely in meaningful ways. And there is something so important and special about TCKs sharing their stories with other TCKs and having those nods of understanding and smiles of shared experience. It is a rare thing to have someone know that part of you.

So let this be the start of a conversation. Share your story. Share your heart. Ask someone else for their story. Listen to their heart. You don't know how much it might mean to them.

What is your story?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Growing Up Expat

Hello all. It's been a busy summer and I have had about a million ideas for things to write but haven't sat down to write any. However, I did write something for a friend's blog over at Growing Up Expat.

Go take a peek at my post and then stick around for the others. She is awesome and there is so much more to come. Seriously, go look:

And I promise there is more to come here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


I can still hear the music of an eerie yet beautiful climb of the violin leading into a strong and defiant, "TRADITION!"

After my high school did the musical Fiddler on the Roof, we boarding students sang the songs ad nauseam while we walked around the dorm, each song spurring on another. I have no doubt it was due to their contagious melodies but the more I live amongst TCKs and their families the more I am convinced that those songs may be meant for crowds like us.

List I made this year of Family Christmas Traditions
In my family, Christmas Traditions have grown a bit into a fun-loving, warm and cuddly monster. We were gone at school for most of the year so we didn't have time or opportunity to have traditions for any other holidays or moments which led to the time we did have as a family at Christmas being cherished and often christened as momentous by a plethora of actions. The worried face I have in this particular photo is due to being far from family, far from the familiar, but suddenly finding myself very close to the holiday with so much to accomplish without any knowledge of how.

The list isn't all about the little goofy things we enjoyed so much that they have become tradition. It is compiled of German traditions from my Dad's family,  special things from my Mom's Finnish family, pieces from my brothers and extended family, even little hints of left over dorm traditions. Some traditions were born from when we were children, others are rooted in the more modern times. And a surprising amount were founded in where we lived, or how we lived in different countries, which we have brought with us to each and every following country and Christmas season.

No matter where they are from, each tradition is special to me and this last Christmas, away from family, hit me hard. The traditions mean a lot to me.

Another TCK (grown up now and raising TCKs of her own) told me about a fantastic tradition they have involving pizzas and picnics and basically it's made of all things lovely and delicious. It was a tradition squeezed from a hard time but it has become hard to find a way to squeeze this tradition into the everyday life they know now. They do, but it's hard and looks different sometimes.

I think traditions are really important to TCKs. There is so much change in our lives, so many things we have to adjust to, so we hold on to the little things we can, in the midst of it all. Traditions are really important. They let us depend on something. They let us feel we have some sort of control or some sort of steadiness in our lives. I always tell parents of TCKs and in doing so, remind myself that it is really important to have traditions in your family that you keep no matter where you go. Everything else might change but your kids will settle into those traditions and even in a new place they will feel like they are home. 

But how great is that tree, right?
So, this last Christmas I found myself drowning in a busy schedule and with no time for traditions. I don't even think I sang the song once! (What a terrible Grandma Tzeitel I've become.) I was emotionally wasting away. After a pointed and tearful talk with a friend of mine, I realized it was time to make room for some traditions. I dragged my husband to the store to try to buy things you aren't supposed to have in Indonesia, like molasses (which turned out not to be molasses at all) and held back tears when the Ace Hardware store didn't have Christmas lights but remedied the situation by indulging in a few cookie cutters. I attempted the 4 hour long process of making Finnish Biscuit alone for the first time and cut out and frosted about 30 German Love Cookies made with whatever it was I bought that wasn't molasses mixed with a random amount of (vaguely) brown sugar. I bought candles for an Advent wreath I didn't have and set up a host of bamboo angels with no manger scene to sing over. Our house was decorated with left over church decorations after the Christmas Eve service and we taped a paper star to the top of our hand made wooden tree.

Because, quite frankly, TCKs are raised to adjust, but also, somewhere in the constant making room for others' cultures, we need to learn the importance of making room for our own. I had to let myself mourn what I didn't have this year and then dried my tears and made the most of what I did. And when I think about it, our greatest family traditions were born out of adjusting to changes and places around us. I'm starting to think that maybe all the best ones are. 

So make room for your traditions: let that goofy song, the puzzles or foods, the sayings and ideas that follow you, beat on steadily to the rhythm of h-o-m-e.


What are your family's favorite traditions? Which ones were born out of change and which ones lasted through change?

Monday, March 14, 2016


I opened the window to see if I could catch a glimpse of what was happening outside. Then I breathed in deep and grinned. My eyes watered and the smell of the people taking a stand outside swept into our home. With the grin still on my face I turned to my husband.

He frowned.

"It smells like tear gas and tires burning. It makes me homesick, " I sighed.

He shook his head. "That's not normal, Maia. Close the window."

Not normal. That phrase crops up often, in words or in glances, when I am explaining things about how I grew up. Only seeing my parents on holiday. Watching the government crumble around me, several times. Living within walls topped with shards of glass. Eating soup with the chicken foot sticking out of it. Watching ash cover the city like snow.

My response is always the same. For us, it WAS normal.
Normal hardly means anything to me anymore. I understand the concept but I am always aware that my normal is someone else's strange. Normal is based highly on perspective.

The first move back to the U.S.A. that I was old enough to be fully aware of I remember being really confused. I expressed to my parents that the houses felt exposed or wrong. You could see the front doors. Some of them were wide open. "Where are the walls?" It didn't feel normal.
Meanwhile, here in Indonesia, where I live now, a student began to explain why people had gates around their houses I thought to myself, Of course they have gates around their houses! Why wouldn't they?

I occurred to me that many new teachers might not be used to that kind of thing. That it might not seem normal.

My husband said something to me about students having to get visas renewed and how frustrating that must be. Then it was my turn.

"I just realized that you went your whole childhood never having to renew a visa or your passport. Wow. That's kind of weird. For student's here, visa and passport renewals are just... normal."

TCK lives are rich with experiences and one of my favorite byproducts of that is being able to see the world from a different perspective, being able to step into other people's "normal". It is such a wonderful gift that is definitely worth sharing. I love hearing other forms of "normal life" around me. What would it be like to grow up interacting with the same 60 people over and over? What would it be like to grow up in that neighborhood, with those people, those traditions, those customs? You start to realize:

Everyone is a little strange. But it's okay. That's normal.

Okay, some of us might be a little stranger than others
What feels like "normal" to you? What customs or lifestyles seem strange?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Going back

I remember the excitement I felt when we knew we were going back. I would see my best friend again, the one I was writing as religiously as I could manage. I was excited to see front doors uninhibited by walls topped with glass. Excited to eat my favorite cereal again. Excited to be back to that place that I considered my concrete, indisputable, unchangeable home.

And then I was there. The shiny rubbed off quickly and I realized that maybe this was not my home. I don't think I had the vocabulary to put my feelings into words at the young age of eleven or twelve, but looking back now I can tell you that I had changed, moving overseas had made me different.

I want to walk lightly, step gingerly around those memories. As much as I know that my life had moved in a different direction the other side of it was that life there had moved on too. I expected things to be the same and they expected me to be the same. Neither was true.

I remember the word I did have for that experience: disappointment.

I have had this conversation again and again with TCKs, that realization that when you "go back" you no longer belong. It isn't just with TCKs either. Something about travel, about living outside of your original world, about that opening of doors does huge change within.

I had changed and for me that meant the news was now less about them and more about us. The word "normal" was discontinued (more on that later). Every face had a story, every culture had merit, every place had the potential for home. Conversations included more than one language, experiences seemed larger than life but also like just life. I left on an adventure as one person and went back as another.

When we "go back" that world can seem small only because that world seemed so big to us before we saw other ones. I often say to myself, why wouldn't they want to travel, but I forget that once I did not travel. I was young, but it was true. I forget that my heart called that place home just as they do. I forget that in my other worlds there are people who are living the same way, people who stay where they are, who are planted and grow deep and beautiful roots.

Try as I may, I cannot pause each world, keep it from spinning, until I can "go back" to it. Time moves forward, life moves on. I cannot do this anymore than people can keep me from being changed by time and motion myself. It occurs to me here that it is hard for me to "go back", but it is also hard to have me back. And in that, suddenly I approach "going back" differently, walking lighter, looking at my old world as a changed world.

What have you felt when you went back?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sharing my passion

I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while.

My life has been in transition. My husband and I packed up our life in Virginia, dropped off stuff for my parents who also happen to be transitioning back to the U.S. Then we traveled to and participated in two wonderful weddings where we danced, smiled, and celebrated wonderful people that have been inextricably connected to our hearts, family and friends from around the world. I can't imagine a better send off or a more emotionally charged one.

Then, we set off for our new future in Indonesia where we are teaching TCKs. My dream is here, embodied in the faces of 140 students from corners of the globe, all mirroring a life I know so well. I am working alongside teachers whose hearts have aligned with my visions. I am tired, exhausted really, confused, but so excited and filled to the very brim of my being here.

I've had to stop and take time to reflect on a few things. Things like the way I feel helpless not knowing the language of the world outside of this school. Things like the frustrations of my creative mind striving to structure out lesson plans. Things like the cherished moments I have already had sharing pieces of myself with the open-handed here.

I can't express to you the excitement I had when a teacher told me that they had recently started seeing the students, not as Korean, American, British, or Australian, but as global citizens. I told my heart to still but the grin on my face and the excitement in my voice betrayed me. "YES! That is the best realization you can make when you are approaching these students!"

I can't explain how wonderful it was to have a group of 6 girls sequestered to a van with me coming back from a trip where I could ask them hard questions about going back to their passport countries, how they fit or didn't fit in, how they viewed the places they had left or returned to. I asked how they compared those ideas to the ones they had of friends here in Indonesia who may have the same perspective of things like travel, moving, or change.

So, I hope you can forgive this absence with the knowledge that I will have so much to share, to reflect on, and so much more to process here as I get my feet and interact with all of these TCKs and those interacting with us.

Meanwhile, check out this cool video opportunity I had before I left Virginia to share my passion.

How have you shared yourself or your passion recently?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Extended Family

Name a country. Any country. The odds are that I will tell you about a friend I know there. My husband calls it name dropping but I like to think of it more as door opening. I love to offer connections, homes, people to travelers. And while I have been bringing up a lot of things that are hard on TCKs, like moving, walls, and loss, I want to talk about something that makes a lot of those hard things not as hard. The people.

I think that if you asked most TCKs what their dream place is they would respond something like, "someplace where I could gather all the people I love at the same time." I know that if that place existed on this earth that it would be my answer to "where is home to you?"Alas, that place does not exist on this planet.

In my boarding school dorm there was this tradition/practice where another family or some teachers who cared about us lonely dorm kids would take us for a day or a weekend. They called it extended family time. These people were obviously not related to us, but the idea was that, by being a part of our lives, they also became something akin to family (excuse the pun).

As my husband and I get ready to move (yet again) my mom reminded me that we have also formed a type of family here. While I am packing up she expressed that she wished she could be here helping me, but she knows that the friends we have here will be her stand-ins; the community we have here is our Virginia family.

I love that. I think that it can happen whether or not you are a TCK but that it is so prevalent in TCK lives, due to being so far from blood relatives, and, truthfully, something about being displaced brings people together. It forms an extended family bond quickly and usually out of necessity.

We have this hanging in our home
To me, all those names I drop, those connections, those doors I open, are all people who have played a part in my life and whom I would highly recommend to play a part in others' lives. It is my way of extending my extended family to others. You are moving to Germany? Would you like a brother, or a sister? To Egypt? How about a substitute mother and father or a mentor? To Uruguay? Let me point you to a home cooked meal. Let my people become your people. Let our lines cross, our colors bleed into each other.

We become one huge family, and suddenly there are places and people that we can call home anywhere and everywhere.

My parents just went to a conference for the people in their organization and it overwhelmed me when they said that as they told people about Tim and I moving to Indonesia all sorts of open arms and helping hands extended to us. And my parents were, in turn, able to open up hands back to them for me by pointing people to this blog, which I hope can be a place for you to read words that are familiar to your heart, that connect us througout the globe, that allow our colors to bleed into each other and make a beautiful work of art across this small world. I'm so thankful for the extended family that I have, and for the extended family that I will keep forming.

So, where are you traveling next? I bet I know someone there that you should meet...

How have you built extended families in your life?