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FROM THE EDITOR The red-golds of autumn are around the corner. Summer has almost ended, and with it, the permission I give myself to read more, play more, and just be. While I often come to the end of summer with a wistful longing, I also enter September with the anticipation of beginnings and gratitude for a life of seasons. How boring life would be without our life seasons, without change, and without the anticipation of those changes! Among Worlds September theme is Communication: Our Languages and Lexicons. There is much to say about communication. We communicate to exchange ideas, to present information, to express opinions and emotions, to offer advice, and so much more. While that has always been the case, the breadth and depth of communication options in our world make my head spin. From apps like Voxer, WhatsApp, and Instagram to the now 15-year-old Facebook, the world has never had more options for communicating. To use these options, we need language, and there is no lack of those. There are roughly 6,500 languages in our world today. Whether it be sign language, Braille, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, or any other of the many languages or dialects, these are our tools for communicating our stories. In the Third Culture and Cross-Cultural Kid community, we know all about language, communication, and connection. We are birthed into communities of change and face learning how to communicate across languages, borders, and nations early in our lives. While this can sometimes feel like a burden, I have come to see it as a gift that we offer to our world: a gift of communicating and a gift of understanding and empathy. What an honor it is to be able to hear someone’s heart and nod in understanding, to not interrupt but to listen in on their stories and

their words. Our languages and lexicons are the heartbeat of our communication. That is what is at the core of this issue of Among Worlds. In this issue we will take you from a multilingual expert to stories on the many ways communication can be misinterpreted causing offense. Mary Bassey brings us her first article as our Writer in Residence and takes us deep into the wardrobe of putting on and taking off accents. In our new “Spotlight” column we talk with Tayo Rockson and the journey that led him to use his difference to make a difference, ultimately ending in a book publishing deal. We have feature articles and poetry, quotes, and photographs, all to bring you into the world of communication from a global, Third Culture Kid perspective. In addition to this, we have our regular features that seasoned readers will remember and new readers will come to enjoy. I’m excited about this issue and I hope you are as well. For now, grab your favorite drink, head to a quiet spot, and dive into the Among Worlds September Issue - Communication: Our Languages and Lexicons. Thanks for reading! I deeply appreciate each one of you.

Marilyn Editor’s Note: While Among Worlds is currently published in English, we honor the many scripts and languages that represent our diverse readers. We use English, not because it is best, but because it is the language currently understood and spoken by all of us.





ARCHIPELAGO Christine Kindberg



11 A TCK MOM DILEMMA Rachel Donahue



WORDS DO MATTER Michael Pollock




SPOTLIGHT Tayo Rockson


28 I SPEAK Miriam Ottimofiore

32 SOMETIMES OK IS NOT OK Michael Crandall


GREAT READS BOOK REVIEW THE REPUBLIC OF IMAGINATION Cherly Skupa Editor: Marilyn R. Gardner Copy Editors: Michael and Kristen Pollock Graphic Designer: Laurel Fleming Digital Publishing: Bret Taylor




By Christine Kindberg

The other day I was trying to put up a notice on a community bulletin board in a café. I asked a café employee who was standing by the drink machine if my poster needed to be approved before I put it up. Just before I’d walked up to her, the woman was speaking to her coworker in Spanish, dishrag on her hip, but then she switched to English to ask me how she could help. My question was out of the ordinary enough that she was stumped for how to answer. She turned to her coworker and switched back to Spanish to ask her if she knew. “Para colgar un anuncio…” I said in Spanish, hoping it might help their confusion if I used the language they seemed most comfortable with. The looks they gave me were even more blank than before, as if my words wouldn’t compute—not when they were coming from me: a pale, blue-eyed American in an American suburb. What those women didn’t know—what no one can tell just by looking at me—is that I’ve been fluent in Spanish since I went to kindergarten. How would they know I was born in Peru and was raised in Chile and in Panama? Even if I carried my passport on my sleeve, one glance at the US passport cover wouldn’t tell them anything. When I was in sixth grade, our classroom held a history and geography bee to review the unit we’d just learned. I was in Kentucky, a year of transition for our family, sandwiched between Chile and Panama. I think the question was, “What is the geographic term for a group of islands?” I stepped forward, eager to gain points for my team. I knew this one. But the word that dropped from my brain onto my tongue was 2


archipiélago—in Spanish. Even though we’d studied the unit in English, I was in a classroom where Midwestern English would have been foreign enough. Archipiélago. I associated it with the islands around the Straits of Magellan, where we’d visited fuzzy baby penguins on our family road trip a few months before we left Chile. The whole class was staring at me, wondering why I was silent if I knew the answer. I knew the word in English was close, but was it the same? And how was it pronounced in English: AR-chie-pe-la-go? A r-KEY-pe-la-go? Ark-ah-PE-la-go? Spanish spelling doesn’t lie like words in English. In Spanish I didn’t need to be afraid of sinkholes of fossilized spelling that has nothing to do with the pronunciation of the word. I debated stepping back, pretending I didn’t know, sitting down and disappointing my team. If I said what I knew, they might laugh at me for pronouncing the word incorrectly. Or the teacher might consider the answer incorrect anyway, if I answered in the wrong language. But I wanted to prove I knew the answer, even if I didn’t know the word. “Archipiélago,” I said, rushing through the slight curl of the r, the marked stress on the e, the almost swallowed g. The teacher blinked and nodded. The answer was right. No one noticed I’d said it in a different language. Being bilingual feels to me like my brain has two tracks. I can usually communicate something just as easily in Spanish as in English—can jump tracks without thinking about it, depending on the circumstances. Whether the conversation I overheard on the train is in Spanish or English, or whether a poster on the side of a building has an ñ or not, my brain unconsciously selects the track

that I need to process the words without me having to think about what language it is. More often than I’d like, I’ll try to say something in Spanish and the words will catch like the track got rusty. Sometimes, after a full day of editing and speaking and writing emails in Spanish at work, I’ll have trouble switching back to wish an English-speaking coworker good night. I get stuck in the no man’s land between languages, unable to think of the word I need in English or in Spanish. My brain—and the conversation— grind to a mid-sentence halt. I’m left beating my way through the bushes back to one track or the other, grasping at air with nothing but wordless images and emotions that I can’t convey. A friend from college who was curious about my upbringing once asked me what my heart language is. I had to think about it. English is what we spoke at home, the language my parents insisted we use when speaking to them, the language they wanted us to read in for fun, so we wouldn’t lose it even though we used Spanish everywhere else. Spanish was the language in which I memorized verses for Sunday school and in which I learned poems for school presentations, the language in which I learned to play and fight with friends on the playground. When my brother and I were growing up, we settled everything via “cachipún,” and only later learned it’s called “Rock, Paper, Scissors” in English. How to answer this friend? Does picking one language deny the significance of the other language in my life? When I go to a church that sings in Spanish, my soul feels like it’s crossed a desert and reached an oasis. But I’ve chosen to attend an English-speaking church instead of the Spanish-speaking alternatives around me. “Both,” I ended up telling my friend. Now I’d say my heart language is Spanglish. There’s a part of me that relaxes and expands when I can switch language tracks at will, grabbing whatever word is closest to mind at

that moment. It’s something that I can only really do when I’m around other people who, like me, are bilingual. There are times when it’s easy for me to think of all the hard things I’ve lived through because I grew up as a TCK. It was rough on me that I had to be the new kid so many times, surrounded by strangers and by a completely foreign environment, especially in fifth grade…and seventh grade…and eighth grade…and twelth grade. But then I think about all the people I never would have met, the conversations I never would have had, if I hadn’t grown up speaking two languages. I think of my monolingual friends here in the US, people I most likely wouldn’t have been able to joke around with over a table with halffilled beer glasses, unless I spoke English. I think of my recent trip to Argentina, and the people who invited me into their homes and shared a mate with me, welcoming me as a foreigner in a way they wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t been able to speak Spanish. And I think of the conversation I had today with one of my coworkers, switching into Spanish and into English and then back again, little caring what the “correct” word was, because we were communicating just fine. It was like language was building a bridge from island to island. And whether we called the group of islands archipiélago or archipelago really doesn’t matter. Christine Kindberg was born in Peru and grew up in Chile, Panama, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Now she lives in the Chicago area and works as a Spanish-language editor for Tyndale House Publishers. She recently published her first novel, a young adult historical fiction titled The Means That Make Us Strangers. You can find her on Instagram @Christine.Kindberg. SEPTEMBER 2019



I’ve always assumed I’m an expatriate (this is not an ex-patriot or an ex-pat or an ex-patriate). A

few years ago, an article called this into question, and the conversation is ongoing. The Guardian

published Why are White People Expats When the Rest of Us are Immigrants? I regularly hear from people concerned that I call myself an expatriate. Considering the ongoing conversation, I increasingly felt I needed to dig into this.



Is the word expatriate racist? Have white people appropriated it and are non-white people limited in their ability to claim it? There are two levels (at least) to this discussion: definitional and experiential. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary: the word expatriate is a verb or an adjective and means someone living in a foreign land. The word immigrant is a noun and means a person who comes to a country to take permanent residence. If we go only by these definitions above, I see one major distinction. Immigrants have an intention to stay, for the expatriates this intention isn’t mentioned and isn’t clear. According to Google, an expat is someone residing outside their native/passport country. An immigrant is someone permanently residing outside their native country. This idea of permanence is significant both in how it relates to the new country and the old country. An expatriate tends to engage less in the host country and maintains stronger ties to the old country. An immigrant might feel a greater sense of loss toward the old country and a greater sense of responsibility and intention in engaging in the host country. It’s kind of like renting versus owning. An expat is a renter, an immigrant is an owner. That is the dictionary discussion and by definition, I’m an expatriate. What about our experiences? The most diverse place I know well is the Protestant church I attend. There are people from Uganda, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, Congo, Nigeria, Senegal, Burundi, America, England, Switzerland, Korea, France, Germany…I think of all of us as expatriates. Some have lived here for decades, some for weeks. I never thought of any of us, regardless of skin color or economic or social class, as immigrants. We are here for work, and we are expatriates.

Because none of us intend to stay forever. We might stay here a long time. We might even die here, though that isn’t our intention. But we maintain residency and passports and voting rights and tax-paying responsibilities, etc. in our home countries which is not this one. To me, that is an expatriate. We’re here but we’re also slightly not here. We’re renters. An immigrant is someone who comes, possibly against their will or preference, like a refugee, and goes all in. They will stay in this new country. They might go back, but that isn’t in the plan as far as they know it. They invest in a different way, a more personal way, weaving themselves into the fabric of the new country and letting it weave itself into them. They are owners. But that is just my experience, and in different parts of the world this is very different. Hana Omar commented on my Facebook page that in Europe there seems to be a strong class and racial component to which term is used. And, there are related words much more racially charged, like migrant worker, a person who is actually an expat. Or, in other places, the term Foreign Domestic Workers is used for people who are also technically expatriates. Both expatriate and immigrant are beautiful words and should be worn with pride by those to whom they belong. Expats are (generally) curious and open and passionate about two worlds. They are bridge people who can take the best of two places and cultures and blend them or use them to sharpen each other. Immigrants are (generally) curious and open and passionate about two worlds. They are also bridge people who can take the best of two places and cultures and blend them or use them to sharpen each other. But the terms matter; they aren’t conveying the same thing. For example, expatriates have the struggle of doing the splits, of keeping a toe in two countries, and the longer they live SEPTEMBER 2019


abroad, the further apart the two countries become, the deeper they must sink into the split. This hurts. And immigrants have the struggle of grief. They have left behind a place they knew and instinctively understood and are straining to fit into a place that doesn’t inherently recognize them. This also hurts. We have something in common, but we are not the same. What do I conclude? Three things. One, I am an expatriate, not an immigrant. Two, the ability to use and choose this term is evidence of my privilege and not all expatriates have that ability, being labeled what others perceive them as, often solely on account of skin color. This is deeply problematic. Three, I can’t assume by looking at someone that they are an expatriate or an immigrant. I have to talk to them and hear their stories. Listen, ask questions, hear where they came from and where they are going and don’t jump to conclusions. Because whether expatriate or immigrant, we all have a story that goes beyond labels and skin color. Rachel Pieh Jones writes about life at the crossroads of faith and culture. Her work is influenced by living as a foreigner in the Horn of Africa, raising three Third Culture Kids, and adventurous exploration of the natural world. She has been published in the New York Times, Runners World, the Big Roundtable, and more. Her next book, Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa will be released in October, 2019. Rachel blogs at

Among Worlds is delighted to feature original cartoon illustrations from the artist and communicator, Cath Brew. Cath is an Australian living in the UK. She works as a heritage interpreter, storyteller, and artist, and she is particularly interested in the way in which people make meaning through the intangible—the invisible layers of identity and belonging. You can find more of her work at her website In the future, we hope to be bringing more of her work to readers of Among Worlds.

Send your business “Among Worlds” by advertising with us. Enquire for information and rates:





Words Do Matter But So Does Effort

As I contemplated September’s theme, Our Languages and Lexicons, I thought of my personal struggle to acquire other languages besides my native English. Even as a child, I had a knack for listening and picking up accents and pronunciations. In Kikuyu church in Kenya, folks would compliment my excellent Kikuyu; compliments I didn’t understand until translated because I was just reading and imitating sounds. Still, I enjoyed the singing and ‘being a part’ but real comprehension of Kikuyu and Swahili eluded me. I studied Spanish in high-school and college and even used it throughout one summer working with Spanish speaking co-workers, seasonal workers from Puerto-Rico, and did okay. My well-known gaff was when I met my Spanish professor, Dr. Horst, who I deeply respected, on the quad one day and answered his “Hola, Miguel” with an earnest and embarrassing, “Jello”. No. Not ‘jell-o’. “Jello” pitch-perfect like Inigo Montoya says right before, “you killed my father, prepare to die!” I wanted to. As an adult, nine years in Tianjin, China, and I had about 60 characters locked in, which meant I was functionally illiterate. I developed certain ‘predictable’

conversations that felt comfortable; my family (yes, the small Chinese girl is my daughter; yes, her mother is Chinese; no, my wife is not Chinese), my job, (I’m really a school principal) my income (enough) and my body hair, (yes, the maopi -fur- on my legs is mine.) My coup de gras was making up several jokes that returned laughs from my Chinese colleagues—the only problem was wondering which of the Chinese laughs was meant; was it funny? were they embarrassed? were they saving my face? Hard to say. In almost all cases, however, it was the attempt to communicate, to reach out, to make the other person comfortable, to inquire politely about their health, family, or whether they had eaten, to wish someone in the market a good morning that mattered. These small exchanges were powerful and precious in building a sense of community and belonging. It was worth all my pained efforts. And once, a taxi driver in Chengdu complained that I sounded like a Tianjiner. I was so proud. I hope you take time to enjoy and learn from the stories, art, and poetry on how we communicate across cultural boundaries and then reach out for more. In these times of fearmongering and ‘othering’, we must choose courage and risk to cross lines and broaden our inclusion. It is worth the effort. Michael V Pollock SEPTEMBER 2019


The Language of

Coffee By Marilyn R. Gardner

“We are the cream of the crop in China, and when we come here we don’t even know how to order coffee!” A Chinese friend said this to my husband one day a few years ago. She’s not alone in her struggle to figure out the seemingly normal. When we moved to the United States after years living overseas, a new language seemed to have become an ‘official’ second language. It seemed amazing that this could have occurred in a country full of “English Only” zealots, but it did. The language was “coffee” and came with its own vocabulary, syntax, and idioms. What made it more confusing were the many dialects that existed, sometimes in the same neighborhood. Coffee had ceased being a simple drink with one or two minor variations and had become a language full of politically correct pitfalls. These pitfalls and complex vocabulary resulted in two years of not getting the drink that I thought I had ordered. I was left with a feeling of stupidity and the belief that I would never master the task of learning to speak coffee. And because the language was most used in the context of tired people in long lines with morning breath and sweaters on their teeth there was little patience for someone who was a learner. While going through the language-learning process in both Egypt and Pakistan, my feeble attempts grew more powerful each passing day as they were met with good humor and encouragement. Little smiles, gentle corrections, sometimes outright laughter all 8


helped guide me through verbs, adverbs, and adjectives, giving me confidence that Arabic and Urdu would indeed become easier. Not so in the land of Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. The vernacular was serious, and there was nary a smile to go with it. But I had suffered bad coffee long enough. In a tearful moment I swore that I would win—I would triumph. I would learn how to speak coffee, and my coffee would no longer be too sweet or not sweet enough, too strong or too weak . It would be perfect because I would learn this language that had eluded me, the language of coffee. My strategy was simple. I would mimic. This had served me well in the past. I had a good ear and would listen. Then when it was my turn at the counter I would repeat verbatim what the person two spaces in front of me had ordered. One space in front felt too creepy and I didn’t want any to suspect that I had no clue how to order coffee. The first day I nervously waited, listened carefully and then repeated exactly as I heard: “I’ll take a grande triple shot soy vanilla latte.” Relieved I stepped away from the counter and waited. After what seemed far too long of a wait, my drink was ready, and I took my first sip. I promptly spit it out and realized I had just lost four dollars and sixty cents. This was coffee? This had to be a joke. Feeling defeated I consoled myself that I was only on day one. There was a science to this and sooner or later I was bound to get the perfect cup. My plan was to try this for two weeks. Surely at that point my language skills would have improved sufficiently to have decent coffee. To my fascination two weeks into this decision I realized with a little thrill that I had three good cups of coffee in a row. Not only that, I had been to two different language groups, so I knew both a primary dialect and

when necessary, a secondary dialect. More significant is that I was doing this without my voice catching, causing a little tremble that made me feel like a five-year old who isn’t completely catching on to Hooked on Phonics. My voice sounded strong and resilient, slightly arrogant and definitely knowing. The way the woman in front of me had sounded that morning with her perfectly coiffed hair and sophisticated black coat.

Who knew that a seemingly trivial thing like coffee would represent adjustment and effective living? The kind of angst it had evoked for such a long time was now over. What did it all mean? And though I didn’t want to read too much into it why did it feel so descriptive of my life? How shallow had I become? SEPTEMBER 2019


As I’ve talked to others who have gone through a significant adjustment process, either through refugee and immigrant status or from living abroad, they echo these fears, this angst that comes with feelings of inability to master activities of daily living.  I realize that I’m not alone in finding the everyday tasks with unspoken rules to be the most daunting and, on mastery, yield the greatest sense of triumph. For me it was coffee. Grocery shopping, public transportation, learning to drive (years past the age of the teenagers who confidently take to the road), and banking may seem easy, but they all come with challenges and fears. It’s easy to feel isolated and defeated but that’s no way to live life, nor is it the modus operandi of the Third Culture Kid. We are described as being resilient and flexible, able to adapt to new situations in a moment’s notice. As we forge ahead wanting America (or Canada or the UK or…) to work for us, wanting to live effectively in our new surroundings, these “every day” skills are gradually learned. Sometimes they are mastered with excellence and we slowly relax and make temporary peace with our surroundings.

My language skills are now incredible! I could pass a state department language exam with the two major coffee dialects that are present in my neighborhood. I speak with skill and confidence. But periodically when I’m tired and forget whether the adjective is grande or medium, I’m reminded of the time when the language was new, and I was struggling. It is at those times that I am inevitably in the queue with someone who has limited coffee speaking ability, an impatient crowd tapping expensive shoes behind them, and I want to be bold enough to offer help. Sometimes that happens, but more often I end up forgetting the language myself and find that I am once again drinking a bad cup of coffee. Marilyn Gardner, the editor of Among Worlds magazine, is an ATCK who grew up in Pakistan and has lived in Egypt, Kurdistan, and the United States. This essay was originally published in Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging and was used with permission.



A TCK Mom Dilemma By Rachel S. Donahue They have two names, dear little one, These things and sounds and feelings. Which shall I teach you, little one? All that which from my native tongue Holds for me depth of meaning? Or that which, foreign though to me, Communicates here easily?

Rachel S. Donahue holds a B.A. in English and Bible from Welch College in Nashville, TN, and has more than eleven years’ experience changing diapers. She and her husband, Mick, previously lived and worked in Spain serving people groups at risk of marginalization. They now live near Charlotte, North Carolina, where they’re both involved in the family greenhouse business while raising three sprightly boys and a sweet-as-pie little girl. SEPTEMBER 2019



THEY ARE NEVER JUST WORDS In my five-year-old mind, accents were outfits to put on and take off. My Nigerian accent was folded neatly at the door of my father’s Volvo, worn once I opened the door to great my father in the driver’s seat. It was also at the door of my (then) home nestled in the gentle hills of Victoria, British Columbia, ready to be picked up and dressed in when conversing with my family. Meanwhile, I donned my Canadian accent as I attended school and socialized with my peers. At home, I drank WOH-tah, not WAH-der like I did at school. I knew I had BEH-tah go to bed on time, knowing that the school assembly the next day will address how us students can be BEH-der Canadians. According to my father, I did this switch between accents quite seamlessly with zero hesitation. That is until my home and my school worlds collided. It was finally my turn to be the one that would have my school friends come over to visit; my young adolescent self who was often the visitor was now the host. I recall my dad making my friends fried plantain, and I was a bit apprehensive that they would not like it. I was giving them a tiny taste of my favorite Nigerian cuisine, and I wanted them to enjoy it like I did. I remember some repulsed faces. In fact, I don’t even remember if any of them thought it tasted delicious. The faces that crinkled at the taste of one of my favorite dishes were the only ones etched in my memory. 12


What escaped my memory is what my father told me happened when they came over. In the space of my home, I went back and forth between my accents with little thought (if any at all). But my father caught me in this change of lingual wardrobe. “Pick one,” he softly told me while smiling at me. I nodded and returned to my friends speaking to them as I would normally do with my Canadian accent. And when they left and it was just my family and me, my accent stayed Canadian. But despite my Canadian accent, my life was indeed multilingual. Nigerian Pidgin is a creole language that stayed with me despite the many moves I have made around the world. My father spoke it all through my childhood, and it wasn’t uncommon to hear emcees incorporating pidgin in their speech as they were hosting events. And oh, how I loved it! Funny jokes sounded even funnier to me in pidgin. Stories were more interesting and entertaining in pidgin. Despite its frequent use in my life, it wasn’t until around my early twenties that I realized that some of the words in Nigerian pidgin sounded much like the words I learned from my Spanish classes I took back in middle and high school. For example, the pidgin word sabi, which means “know,” sounds like the Spanish infinitive saber, meaning “to know.” “This couldn’t be coincidence,” I thought to myself. I knew that when it came to crosscultural similarities, they were hardly a coincidence. However, I found it difficult to recall any strong Spanish ties

that Nigeria had. The only Spaishspeaking African country I knew of was Equatorial Guinea, a tiny country south of Nigeria in West Africa. “Perhaps it is Portuguese, not Spanish, that is responsible for this similarity,” I considered further. After all, there are many similarities between these two languages, and I knew Portuguese had a long colonial history in Africa, though I was unaware of the specifics. I took to Google and looked up the Portuguese word for “to know.” Saber. I then searched the history of the Portuguese in Nigeria. I learned that, as early as the 15th century, they were trading with the Nigerian city of Benin. The Portuguese were interested in the raw materials natural to the West African landscape, especially brass.

Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language.

My brother, my father, and me on a visit to Canada after we moved to the US. My brother and I are wearing our Nigerian native outfits SEPTEMBER 2019


Around the 17th century, the Portuguese missionaries also arrived at the shores of what would later become present-day Nigeria with their religion, contributing to the current religious landscape of Nigeria’s Christian Southern region. But this did not happen due to a common language between the two countries. There was indeed a language barrier to overcome. With the arrival of the British roughly around the same time and the need of communication between them, the Portuguese, and Nigerians, Nigerian pidgin emerged. And till this day, it is a popular form of communication used mainly in informal gatherings regardless of region or social class. Pidgin no dye carry last! Not too long after I learned of the origins of pidgin, I was enamored by the similarities in culture between my Nigerian side and that of my friend Tamara from the beautiful Caribbean country of Barbados. Our food, our slang, our sense of community was similar enough that we often confided with each other when it came to the idea of identity and belonging. It is no wonder then that Nigerian pidgin and the various creole languages bear similarities. In fact, I learned

My brother (left) and I arrived in Canada from Nigeria as small children.



that the similarities stretch even further, spanning the Gambian Krio, Sierra Leonean Krio, Ghanaian, and Cameroonian Pidgin as well as Pichi of Equatorial Guinea. I learned the harsh truth that “Nigeria also provided slaves for Barbados, the Yoruba, Efik, Igbo, and Ibibio being the main ethnic groups targeted.” And I am Efik. I learned of free slaves who crossed the waters of the Atlantic and repatriated back to their West African homes. In other words, it was more than just the merchants. And it was not mere coincidence that beneath our different birthplaces, Tamara and I had a shared history. It was the movement of our people who came before us and the people groups they came across. It was enslavement. It was forced separation. After spending several years in the United States, my current home, I came to view African American Vernacular English, or AAVE for short, as the creole of Black Americans. For so long, I had been told that it was “speaking ghetto,” and I, in my ignorance, held the same unfounded, uneducated opinion. Just as pidgin had its own

grammatical structure, so did AAVE. Just as, Na trouble you dey find so was valid, so was You finna try me. Don’t be moving funny like that. I should have known better. But thankfully, I now know better. Throughout the history of colonization, black people all over the Diaspora created their own lexicons, their own avenues of communication. And unlike my five-year-old self who may have changed accents out of fear of sticking out, we switch between our creole with our people and our English in the corporate world shamelessly. And this code-switching is something that I have come to fully appreciate unabashedly. The Diaspora is filled with language inventors and assimilators. Our mouths have taken on words not native to us, whether it was pieces of a foreign language or the entire thing. There is this saying that goes, “Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language.” I would also add to never look down on someone whose English is spoken with a different accent. Long gone are the days that I find, “Your English is very good,” to be a compliment. While the person’s intent is usually good, I know that their compliment

also lies in the fact that my North American accent sounds familiar to them; it’s not a coincidence that I get more of these compliments than my parents who have Nigerian accents yet speak perfect English. I often respond to the compliment-giver by saying, “Well, speaking English fluently is what happens when your country is colonized by Britain.” It either leads to them affirming the truth of my statement or silence. It’s usually silence. And that’s okay. Perhaps it is them sitting with the realization that the familiar intonation of my voice and the ease with which I speak their native tongue are more than meets the ear. After all, history has shown that they are never just words.

Mary Bassey is a TKC who has lived in Canada, Nigeria, and the United States.

During my twenties I returned to visit Canada.



Great Reads Book Review

The Republic of Imagination By Azar Nafisi

Reviewed by Cheryl Barkman Skupa Azar Nafisi’s earliest memories involve a love of books such as Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. A later obsession with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the stories of Faulkner, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison fueled an interest in the United States. Like us, she is a Third Culture Kid. She has traveled from Iran to Europe for boarding school, then to the US for college, and, at a later time, back to the US to escape the increasingly oppressive Iranian regime. Nafisi begins this book, The Republic of Imagination, with an anecdote of a young Iranian immigrant she met at a book signing in Seattle. ‘It’s useless,’ he said, ‘you talk about books. These people are different from us—they’re from



another world. They don’t care about books and such things. It’s not like Iran, where we were crazy enough to xerox hundreds of pages of books like Madame Bovary or A Farewell to Arms’ (1). Yet Nafisi knows instinctively that book-loving people come from every walk of life. Some of those who haunt libraries and bookstores have not traveled a great deal and may not have faced oppression. For the young Iranian and others like him, ideas are not accessories; they are essential to the preservation of identity, to what makes us human

beings with a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And so while all of these future or would-be citizens will celebrate the generosity of America, its gift of choice and freedom, they are often more anxious than those born here about the potential of squandering what is now so frequently taken for granted” (14). For those born in democracies, Nafisi says the threat is not persecution, but the “seduction of paralysis.” The distractions of free life may draw its citizens into a lethargy where books are not banned but nevertheless are left unread. The individuals—those who live under oppression or freedom—must form a self-imposed exile, what Nafisi calls The Republic of Imagination, a place with “no borders and few rules.” For all the freedoms enjoyed in America, Nafisi observes that much of American literature is centered on themes of homelessness, exile, and vagrancy. In fact, American democracy began as such a foundling child. In this book, Azar discusses these themes as seen in three American novels. The first of the three, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Nafisi reminds us, centers

on Huck’s rejection of the security of home offered by a widow in favor of the freedom of the river. The novel’s second main character, Jim, a runaway slave, has homelessness thrust upon him as he escapes the bondage of the “civilized society.” The second novel, Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt, explores the price of fitting in, of conformity, as Babbitt becomes the “standardized man,” productive and practical, but absurdly machinelike. The third novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Southern writer, Carson McCullers, describes the kind of self-imposed exile that many Third Culture Kids, even Azar Nafisi felt: that of the outcast, the lonely one. Anyone who has experienced exile knows that in the aching desire to retrieve the lost land. The first thing that comes to mind is not what forced you to leave, but what kept you from leaving. This desire manifests itself as a sensual urge, a desperate longing for certain things whose absence makes them so hauntingly present. …whenever I thought of Iran, I yearned for that special quality of light, the way it gave a cool, sundrenched taste to the peaches and apricots and brought out the crisp



scent of jasmine at night. Did it smell so strong and so sweet, our jasmine, because of the sun? (218, 219). This section of the book may have the most to say to Third Culture Kid readers. Azar describes her own feelings of isolation as a young undergraduate at Oklahoma University in the 1970’s, a time when there were few international students on the campus. And yet, there on the streets of Norman, Oklahoma, she met other “exiles” those who felt alienated even while living in their own cultures. What of them and the cast of lonely characters in Carson McCullers’ novel?


What is the nature of home or homelessness, of communication or its lack thereof (one of the characters in the novel is deaf)? Nafisi reminds us that “As human beings, we have a profound need for empathy. We need to be listened to and understood” (232). 18


In the epilogue, Nafisi examines the writings of James Baldwin. He is an exile of sorts, a writer who believed that literature could provide the “social glue” to unite a divided culture. Nafisi describes a book festival as an outcropping of this Republic of Imagination at which Baldwin hinted. I love the chaos of book festivals, the way different characters, cultures, stories, and times all jumble together to the accompaniment of music, food and art, all the good things in life shared with gusto, but not too seriously. It is as if the abundant variety of human existence contained in the thousands of books under consideration spills over onto the sidewalks and streets of the host city (291). I’ve always instinctively felt that TCKs tend to be readers. I certainly am. Maybe it’s all those long hours in airports, train, and bus stations, the inevitable bureaucratic slowness of life in some countries, at least the ones I’ve traveled in. Or maybe I remember the angst in my own young life as I as I wiled away the afternoon hours in the back porch hammock, a treasured book in my hand. There was this inevitable sense of the preciousness of books which permeated my childhood among foreign missionaries in a remote location. I’ve often wondered if, in today’s age of instant communication, whether such things are still true for TCKs. Yet it could be that TCKs tend towards books in the same way Nafisi explains, as a way of reaching the worldwide community linked as readers. I certainly feel that draw—in and out of my porch hammock. Cheryl Scupa is an ATKC who has lived in Brazil, China, and the United States.

Spotlight Tayo Rockson

Communicator • Author • Change Agent

Welcome to Spotlight - a new feature of Among Worlds magazine.

Our goal in the Spotlight column is to highlight Third Culture

Kids in all ages and stages of life who are making a difference in the world. In this issue, we want to introduce you to Tayo

Rockson. I first met Tayo through an online conversation. His personality and positivity came through his online presence, and I was immediately convinced that this man would go places. We met in person in 2015 in Washington D.C. at a Families in Global Transition conference. The theme was Finding ‘Home’ Amidst Global Change. Tayo presented a powerful speech on How to use

your difference to make a difference. Since that time, Tayo’s career and

influence have spread exponentially. From Ted Talks to a book deal,

he is a compelling communicator with a message for our time. SEPTEMBER 2019


Among Worlds spoke with Tayo and asked him about his journey as well as how his third culture kid background has influenced that journey. Tell us a bit about your growing up years, your family, and the places that shaped you? I had a pretty eventful childhood as I grew up in five countries and four continents. In addition to this, I spent the first nine years of my life living in and out of two military dictatorships. We moved around so much because my dad was a diplomat, so we would move every time he got posted out of the country. The five countries I grew up in are Nigeria, Sweden, Burkina Faso, Vietnam, and the United States. Nigeria has my heart. Sweden is where my middle brother was born. Burkina Faso is where my identity was formed. Vietnam exposed me to just how big our world is, and the United States always felt like an inevitable destination for me.  Leadership and brotherhood were two principles drilled into me by my parents as I am the oldest of three boys. My parents wanted me to be able to set a good example for my siblings because they knew that they wouldn’t always be around given our unique schooling and life experiences. 



What was a pivotal point for you when you realized what you wanted to do with your life? August 22, 2012. I was driving to work in my burgundy Toyota Camry like usual. I got to the point where the road merged into the highway, and I stepped on the accelerator pedal until I got to 60 mph, when suddenly, my lane was cut into half. A neighboring car had lost control, and as a result of that, I was swerving all over the place to get out of the way. In the process, I hit the left guardrail then one car, another car, the right guardrail, then another car and back to the left guardrail. This time the car lifted up, and I thought for certain I was going to flip over. At this moment, aged 22, as my life flashed before me, I only had one thought: “Have you done everything you said you were going to do in life?” Have I done everything I said I was going to do in life? My survival instinct kicked in, and I slammed my brakes. I found a way to get out of the car in the middle of the road, and to my surprise, I was in one piece. My car was totaled, debris everywhere, and three cars all hit. But I was alive. I was in one piece. All of a sudden, I had clarity on what the meaningful things in life were for me. I decided then and there that I would now live life on my own

terms and pursue my dreams. I quit my job shortly afterward and moved to New York City to figure out how to do just that. All that led me to helping individuals and institutions communicate effectively across cultures. I do so by being a diversity and inclusion consultant, speaker, writer, podcaster, and coach.

me work my empathy and compassion muscles. Being able to see things from different perspectives helped me to create content in an intersectional and nuanced way.

How has your background as a Third Culture Kid informed your work and your passion?

Tell us more about your book - how did it come to be? What convinced you of the need for this book at this time?

It informed everything. Without the identity crisis I experienced growing up, as well as the incredible exposure I gained from living all over the world, I wouldn’t have realized just how deep the divisions are in our world. Being a Third Culture Kid helped

I wrote my book because I believe we need to learn how to cultivate relationships now more than ever. Today’s culture is defined by fear, uncertainty, intolerance, and reactiveness. It feels like a war zone sometimes because, in a world of nuance, we are governed by binary systems. In addition to this, we are losing faith in many of our foundational institutions (religion, education, government, family, the Internet, media). This isn’t just happening in some places. It’s happening all over the world. There simply isn’t any clarity on what we find threatening because we all



feel things differently. Despite this, I’m filled with hope because we are also in the midst of an awakening of sorts. An awakening that allows us to see who we really are and where we can improve. The world has to awaken every now and then to the fact that we are responsible for the world we get. My objective with this book is to bring people who hold different beliefs together so they can get to know each other and create a path towards moral courage, empathy, compassion, and accountability. We live in an increasingly polarized world. What advice do you have for us in communicating beyond disagreements and differing world views? Educate. Don’t perpetuate. Instead, communicate.

Education involves education of self and education of environment. We need to be able to acknowledge our biases, live our values, and recognize our triggers. The more we make these things daily habits we will be more observant and aware of the people we live around. We will start to make sure more people feel welcome and safe enough to be themselves. Don’t perpetuate involves understanding how perpetuating stereotypes goes beyond just saying racist jokes and microaggressions. It also has to do with the information we spread and the history we teach. Are we complicit in spreading disinformation and revising history. Communication involves committing to having an open dialogue with people who think differently from us. Doing this allows us to move from an ethnocentric worldview into greater understanding and a wider worldview. What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time? I LOVE movies, sports, writing, and working out. My favorite sport is basketball followed by football (soccer) and tennis. I am also a voracious reader. I like to go through at least 100 books a year.  Lastly, any dates for book release, book tours, and how to purchase the book.  The book comes out September 4th and is available anywhere books are sold. You can pre-order it here: Use-Your-Difference-Make-Cross-Cultural/ dp/1119590698 For upcoming events and book tours, head over to as I will be updating the page with tour dates. 



Speaking more than one language is not only an asset, it is a need and the norm for more than half of the world’s population: “Bilingualism and multilingualism are a normal and remarkable necessity of everyday life for the majority of the world’s population” (Romaine, 2006). In order to become multilingual, one doesn’t need to be exposed to more than one language from birth and doesn’t need to attain native fluency in all the languages. A person is considered multilingual if she “uses more than one language (or dialect, [or sign language]) in her everyday life, either separately or together, for different purposes, in different domains of life, with different people”

The Gift of Multilingualism By Ute Limacher-Riebold

(Grosjean, 2008; Baker, 2011). SEPTEMBER 2019


Leading an international life gives us the unique possibility to fully immerse into other cultures and languages, and to raise children with a broader horizon when it comes to values, beliefs, habits, and languages. The benefits of knowing multiple languages Understanding and speaking multiple languages has many benefits. Some of the linguistic and cultural advantages for multilinguals consist of having a greater linguistic repertoire at their disposal, and therefore more linguistic resources available, especially when they can read in all their languages. As multilinguals, we have easier access to the cultures of the languages we know, which is an advantage in knowledge transfer. Moreover, knowing multiple languages increases our social circle as it includes friends from many parts of the world. Being able to speak the language of the places we visit or live in helps bring people together and facilitates communication, exchange, and socialization.



Multilinguals are experienced language learners and learn additional languages easier as the strategies they developed help them recognize underlying patterns. Language learning can be compared to learning to play different instruments. If you read the notes and can play them on an instrument, it will be easier to learn to play an additional instrument because you already know the basic principles. Research has shown that multilinguals have cognitive and academic advantages such as being better at problem solving. Tackling problems successfully requires selective attention, which is linked to mental flexibility and creativity that comes from switching between multiple languages and language systems. Furthermore, multilinguals have obvious career advantages: they understand and communicate easier with people from different cultural backgrounds. Finally, multilinguals have more than one set of cultural tools to interpret the world and are more understanding and have a flexible attitude toward diversity. The experience of living in different cultures and the potential ability to communicate in different languages are the main reasons parents raise their children internationally. Monolingual families who want to raise multilingual children will focus on providing their children an education that enables them to learn other languages, including local languages when they live or travel abroad. Their children can acquire those languages by attending daycares in the target language or will learn these languages in a more formal manner at school. Some parents provide additional input by hiring nannies or aupairs that speak the desired language, and by making sure that their children are exposed to other languages as often as possible, often by visiting places where these languages are spoken.

Full immersion is the best way to learn a language, as it exhibits an imminent need to communicate in that language. When there is a need there is a way When children do not need to speak another language because they live in a community where they can choose other languages, the chances for them to become balanced bilinguals (i.e. with approximately the same fluency in the different languages) diminish. It seems a contradiction, but in order to learn a language we need to have a systematic monolingual input. What many parents tend to underestimate is the amount of energy, dedication and time that raising a multilingual child requires. We need to work on our languages with considerable consistency between 3 to 8 years in order to reach nearly-native fluency, and not only do we need the input of (nearly) native speakers and the need to use the language regularly, but also resources on to learn to read and write that language, learn the different registers, slang etc.

languages easier, for the reasons I mentioned before. If they are schooled in a different language than their home languages, their most dominant language will become their educational language as they will use it in most or all the subject areas at school.

On multilingualism and myths It is important to be aware of the many myths about multilingual children. For example, children are not like sponges. Although young children can reproduce sounds quickly – and without accent when exposed to at least one native speaker – older children and adults can do the same. The main difference is that older children and adults might rather learn the additional language and have a less natural approach to it. More and more international families already speak different languages at home, and others share a language that is not from one of the countries they live in. Children who grow up in multilingual families acquire their home languages from a very early stage and in a more natural way (simultaneous bilinguals). They tendentially learn additional SEPTEMBER 2019


At that point, the main challenge for their parents will be to maintain the home languages throughout their childhood, and to adapt to the changing needs and expectations that a mobile life entails. For example, children of a Spanish-Polish family living in Paris who are schooled in English, will focus more on English as it is more important that they understand the school language. In an area like Paris it is easier to meet other Spanish and Polish speaking families and provide regular language input in the home languages. Most families start on this multilingual journey with a clear goal in mind: that the children will become literate in all their languages. Most schools offer language classes only in a few languages—usually the most dominant ones like Spanish, French, German— and when they offer native language classes, it’s mostly extra-curricular classes. The language classes

that are part of the curriculum are mainly aimed for second language learners and are not providing enough stimuli for native speakers. In weekend schools, children will learn more about their cultures, and, eventually, start learning how to read and write in the respective language. Unfortunately, most children will stop attending those weekend schools around age 12, when schools require more attention in other subject areas and children prefer spending their free time with other activities. If the Polish-Spanish family then moves from Paris to another country, the school language will be priority for the children to maintain some continuity, whereas the focus on home languages will fade. Depending on where they move to, they will need to find or build (!) communities that speak their languages in order to keep on fostering them, otherwise chances are high that one or all the home languages will suffer. Worst case is that their children will stop speaking their home language or lose their home languages if the parents stop speaking them too. We need a multilingual village to raise a multilingual child (African saying adapted by Ute Limacher-Riebold) Raising multilingual children and making sure that all languages are maintained is a long-term commitment. It is not realistic to expect that we will be equally fluent in all the languages we acquire or learn and become and stay balanced bilinguals. There will always be one or two (or three) languages we need to speak (read and write) more than others, and these will be our more dominant ones. Also, language shifts are very likely to occur, as language situations will change when we move to another country, change schools, or because of other contextual and emotional factors. The dominant language in one context can become the passive language in another.



Our language goals will change over time and we will need to make adjustments. Therefore, I always recommend assessing our language situations and creating a language plan with short and long term goals concerning all the languages we want to maintain at home, at school and in the community. By defining realistic goals and agreeing on them as a family, we can make sure to at least reach part of our objectives, because an objective without a plan is just a wish (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry). Baker, Colin, 2011, Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, Multilingual Matters. Grosjean, François, 2008, Studying Bilinguals, Oxford University Press, p.10.

Bhatia & William C. Ritchie (eds.), The Handbook of Bilingualism, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, p.385 Ute Limacher-Riebold is a Language Consultant and Intercultural Communication trainer at Ute’s International Lounge. She has a PhD in Romance Philology and has taught historical linguistics at the University of Zurich. She speaks six languages fluently and helps international families maintain their home languages whilst learning new ones. Ute has lived in France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

Romaine, Suzanne, 2006, The bilingual and multilingual community, in Tej K.



I Speak

By Mariam Ottimofiore I speak Urdu, language of poets and Mughal emperors, where yesterday and tomorrow, are both the same word, layer upon layer like a saffron-hued Biryani to dig under words with politeness and purpose I speak German, language of authority and order, structured, reliable decisive, der, die,das, so many options, why can’t I pick the right one? I speak English, language of Shakespeare and storytelling, fun, flirty, flamboyant, it’s pronunciation keeps you guessing, so many accents to choose from, so many ways to belong. I speak Italian, language of a lazy lover of philosophy and love itself, melodic, emotional, empathetic, smooth as a creamy risotto, Illustration by each word slides off your tongue, Helena Jalanka featured Ottimofiore, my last name is my favorite sound. on page 201 of This Messy Mobile Life by Mariam Ottimofiore. Used with permission.



I learnt Sindhi, language of feudal lords and dry, parched lands, I read poetry in Persian, each word so beautiful and pure, I learnt the Quran in Arabic, those guttural sounds transforming strange words into comfort, I learnt Danish, an over-abundance of vowel sounds, which words do you swallow? must language be so minimal? Eight languages, Eight different worlds, and yet, people want to know, where do you come from? How can a mola* only show one story? Mariam Ottimofiore is an adult TCK and a Pakistani expat, who has spent the past 17 years living abroad in Denmark, Germany, Ghana, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. She is an economist, writer, researcher, author and blogger at And Then We Moved To in which she explores expat life, raising multicultural and multilingual children, and world travel. Her upcoming book, This Messy Mobile Life; How a MOLA Can Help Globally Mobile Families Create a Life by Design, (Summertime Publishing 2019) is the first book in the expat genre that ties in multiculturalism, multilingualism, and mobility to equip international families to navigate the complex challenges they face in their globally mobile lives. You can follow her work on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Author’s note: In South America, a mola is a shirt made from intricately stitched layers of patterns and cloth. Worn with pride, it represents who you are—inside and out. I present a mola as the perfect metaphor for globally mobile families living between cultures, countries, languages, nationalities, identities and homes, who find their story hard to articulate.





When you live between languages, the conversion of meaning is an arithmetic in loss. The transference of what I want to say pours from one container into an incompatible receptacle. Inevitably, something is lost. I am used to thinking of something in Spanish, for example, which then comes out strangely in English, or cannot be said in English at all, not in the same way. I am used to being understood sufficiently, rather than fully. The Paris Review Translation as an Arithmetic of Loss



Sometimes OK is not O By Michael Crandall

Gaining Competency in Cross Cultural Communication is not just about linguistics. When dealing with international students or participating in any cross-cultural communication, verbal language skills are only the surface of any communication endeavor. When two cultures come together, language, signs, motions, and a plethora of other things can contribute to good communication or lead to serious misunderstandings. 32


It’s not Ok to sign Ok in Brazil! For years I have shared with international educators a story of when my father was serving as a pilot who flew mapping missions for La Agencia de Cartografía de la Defensa para el Servicio Geodésico Interamericano in Latin American. My father had not been there for very long when he embarked on a mission flying from an airfield in Brazil back to Venezuela. Just before preparing to take off, the man on the ground circled his finger in a gesture meaning “Start up your engines.” My father responded with the American OK sign as a means of communicating he had received and understood the instructions. The man working on the tarmac became upset and frustrated, started yelling and with an exaggerated gesture signaled my father to start his engines again. My father then nervously held up both hands in the OK gesture to ensure that the man on the ground could see that he received the instruction and was working on firing up his engines. At this point the man on the ground became even more frustrated. Shouting and pointing at my father, he signaled him yet again to start his engine. By this time, my father had been able to start his engine and began to taxi onto the runway and was able to take off.


Deciphering the Interaction. When my father landed in Venezuela and shared the story about what had happened with the other pilots, including his confusion about the reaction of the man on the tarmac, they all laughed. They then explained to him that in Brazil the hand sign used in America for OK is considered a very rude expression. He had repeatedly thrown this sign to the man on the ground and in the process

had angered him. While my father was simply communicating his compliance and understanding, his OK sign was interpreted as a rude gesture and the man on the tarmac responded accordingly. It still happens today! I shared this story with a fellow international educator, and I explained it’s like when Nixon went to the United Kingdom and flashed the peace sign as he got off his plane as he was wont to do, but he slightly rotated his wrist turning it toward himself causing consternation among the British with what is considered a rude sign in England. The advisor I was talking to went white in the face and said, “What? No!” And I said, “Yes,” and they said “NO.” And I said “What’s the matter?” And the advisor said, “I have a shirt I picked up with the words England Salutes You that has a hand like that on it, and I thought it was a victory sign.” He went on to say , “I wear that shirt once in a while to my office. Oh my, I think I wore that shirt to the Indian Independence day celebration recently. I’m going to go right home and burn that shirt tonight.” I then asked them not to burn the shirt but rather, to bring it in so I could take a picture of it. The story was a priceless example of how wellmeaning, internationally minded individuals must continually question their assumptions and keep learning. This interaction reminded me once again how important it is for international educators, businessmen, or any individuals operating across cultures to share their stories and discuss these matters. Like my father, this educator did not mean offense, but their lack of knowledge could have caused a great deal of upset, depending on who saw the shirt. Much like in my father’s case, the message received could have presented horrible and offensive optics! SEPTEMBER 2019


The bottom line message here is if you want to live in peace like Nixon, and you want everything to be OK like my father, then you need to make sure you know that the message you are sending is the same thing as the message that they are receiving. Just remember, OK is not OK in Brazil!

‌in Brazil the hand sign used in America for OK is considered a very rude expression. He had repeatedly thrown this sign to the man on the ground and in the process had angered him.



Michael Crandall grew up as an Army Brat or Military Connected Child and son of a Medal of Honor recipient. Born in San Jose, Costa Rica, in his first 18 years of life he lived in 33 separate domiciles spread across five countries: Costa Rica, Panama, Thailand, the United States, and Venezuela. He has lived in eight US states: Arizona, , California, Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska, Virginia, and Washington. The experiences of traveling the world as a child helped him develop the skills he would later use in his career working with international students, first at Pennsylvania State University and then at Arizona State University where he served as the Assistant Director at the largest public university destination for international students in the US. Currently, he is actively working on building networks of cooperation to assist with bringing awareness to issues Military Connected Families face and to develop training and support to those families and to the schools, service providers, veteran organizations, religious groups, and others within the communities that support them.

The Why and How of a

Masters in Intercultural and International Communication By Megan Norton

I have a transcript from the School of International Service at American University that says, “Master of Arts in Intercultural and International Communication with a concentration in Third Culture Kid Identity and the Emergence of Transnational Education.� Quite a degree title. What does it mean? What did I learn? What skills do I have? How will this help me career wise? Why did I pursue this degree? SEPTEMBER 2019


Sometimes looking back at my varied career track over the past seven years across sectors and continents I wonder if this is a “golden” degree to have on a resume. It has taken me to many places and has led me to work in a field that is emerging as one of the most needed in our increasingly globally mobile world. Initially when I say I have a degree in this, I’ll get some responses like, “How many languages do you speak?” or “How many languages do you have to create social media communication strategies in?” or “Do you work with immigrants or international students or international corporations?” or “Are you going into diplomacy?” All valid inquiries. All relevant. And all very telling of how diverse “intercultural,” “international,” and “communication” concepts can be on their own, let alone strung together in one line. Yes, I have had to demonstrate my multilingual ability in graduate school in taking the required proficiency tests. Yes, I have had to design social media strategies with other language and cultural contexts in mind to consider readability and reach. Yes, I have worked across sectors given this degree’s application to different projects and opportunities in global industries.



So, what is Intercultural and International Communication? In my experience, the degree coursework paired with internships, fellowships, and projects I worked on, “Intercultural and International Communication” is a unique approach to understanding how culture is shaped by and is shaping international relations—at many levels and in different contexts. For example, the expression of culture and its role in diplomacy in one African country may look completely different from its impact in another one. To speak the appropriate language of decision-makers, to operate effectively across cultural contexts, and to deeply understand what non-verbal cues can mean in different situations are all examples of what is explored, unpacked, and learned in this field. Intercultural competencies are essential for any sector, industry, or leadership domain. In order to conduct business, establish relationships, and to operate effectively cross-culturally, it is imperative to understand what teamwork looks like in any given cultural context, what empathy and resiliency looks like, and what gender roles and expectations look like. Problem solving, negotiating, and strategic thinking are practices that

are both conceptualized and applied differently in cultures. Having the ability to navigate these differences and leveraging diversity on a cognitive, behavioral, and emotional level are skills that are learned in and through intercultural frameworks and paradigms. For example, the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), created by Dr. Milton Benett, is used by individuals in multiple sectors to help them cognitively recognize how ethnocentric or ethnorelative they are when operating within a cross-cultural context. The stages along the DMIS continuum move from denial to integration; in other words, from perceiving no cultural differences to develop a full understanding of what it means to operate holistically in a new culture. There are several additional models and frameworks that can measure individuals’ cultural fluidity and showcase where tension or misunderstanding can happen due to cultural differences, but the basic understanding that culture is learned, internalized, and sometimes hidden, are the key foundational concepts in intercultural communication. Having the ability to shift perspectives, to heighten self-awareness, and to be emotionally

resilient are some of the core competencies and abilities stretched and practiced in and through intercultural and international communication. Why is Intercultural and International Communication Important? This work is important because International Communication is a multidisciplinary field that weaves together practices and skill sets that include emotional intelligence, diversity and inclusion mindsets, cultural frameworks, sociology, anthropology, and geopolitical conversations. The ability to communicate effectively with others and to build bridges across differences takes intentionally exercised skill sets, communication techniques, and realistic cultural empathy built upon foundational cultural frameworks. To be culturally adept is one of the most sought after hard and soft skill in any sector because it demonstrates that you can shift your behavior, understand different attitudes, recognize thought patterns, and derive benefits from differences. In order to understand “the other” better, whoever “the other” is, we need to practice recognizing and committing ourselves to creatively, innovatively, and appropriately



respond to cultural differences and the diversity we operate within every day. To understand how to peaceably and appropriately navigate, champion, and celebrate cultural differences and diversity in this increasingly interconnected and complex world is what it means to be a student of intercultural and international communication. How do you pursue learning more about Intercultural and International Communication? It depends. (And by the way, that is the classic response to almost every question speaking about cultural “norms”). It depends on what sector and stakeholder you’d like to learn more about and interact with. If you’re interested in learning more about corporate intercultural communication, I recommend exploring the resources that the thought leaders connected with the Intercultural Communication Institute in Portland, Oregon publish. I was a fellow at one of their summer programs where I met some of my heroes in this field: Janet Bennett, John Condon, Lee Gardenswartz, Tatyana Fertelmeyster, and Donna Stringer. These thought leaders along with several emerging ones are also active in the Society for Intercultural Education, Training, and Research (SIETAR). SIETAR has global chapters, and I highly recommend attending one of their conferences to stay current on cultural paradigms, frameworks, tools, and resources. Independent globally-renown coaches and consultants are also trainers in this field. For example, Sundae Schneider-Bean, founder and host of the network called Expat Happy Hour, is one of my favorite interculturalists because she applies cultural theorists work, such as Hofstede’s theory about cultural dimensions, into real, practical, and relevant ways for globally mobile individuals. Several of these expert interculturalists are a part of the organization Families 38


in Global Transition (FIGT) because it is a community of experts in this field who connect with one another about how to build effective cross-cultural communication programming in different sectors. If you’re a reader, a few books to consider include Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map, Andy Molinsky’s Cultural Dexterity, Linda Brimm’s Global Cosmopolitans, and Gary Weaver’s Intercultural Relations: Communication, Identity, and Conflict. For those who desire to study Intercultural and International Communication in a higher education institution, I recommend researching a place that has professors who have work you’ve read or researched and to speak with students who are in the program currently to learn more about their projects and future goals. What this looked like for me was researching Dr. Gary Weaver’s work at American University and discovering that he was one of the

founding fathers of the Intercultural and International Communication field (he created the Cultural Iceberg Model!). Dr. Gary Weaver was my professor and mentor during my time at American University and I am deeply grateful for the way he challenged me to consider my space and place within this field to make an impact in the way people understand themselves and the way they connect with others both locally and globally. At that time, he remarked how my Third Culture Kid upbringing and profile could be a trajectory career-wise in my supporting others who have had this global experience as well. Not even a decade later, this is the lane I’m in and I’m thankful that he saw the intersectionality of my passion, purpose, and vision in this field applies to Third Culture Kid mentoring.

Why I chose Intercultural and International Communication as my second Masters degree When I announced to my family and friends that I was going back to graduate school again, they asked me why?! My bank account screamed the same question. There are several reasons why I chose this specific program at American University but more importantly why I chose this field. In having the freedom and encouragement to build my own academic track at American University, I was able to select courses and projects that helped me to build a range of expertise that relates to cross-cultural identity (specifically Third Culture Kid identity), program management, training and design, and monitoring and evaluation skills. I have applied this knowledge and these experiences across industries: for three summers I worked in two different U.S. Embassies, for five years I worked in education, for a couple months I worked as a consultant for corporations, and now I work in the non-profit sector. This degree’s versatility and applicability reflects the core values it holds: to be able to understand holistically what the cultural context is and weave in sociological, anthropological, geopolitical, cultural, economic, and personal lenses to be able to creatively challenge what solutions and outcomes are possible. Pushing on what the world is to be, what it should be through the foundation of cultural knowledge, understanding, and expertise is what my mission is and why I do the work that I do.

Megan Norton is an intercultural training specialist and researcher currently working with Interaction International as the Assistant Director of Daraja. Megan has lived in 10 countries, five US states, and currently lives in Michigan. Her expertise as an intercultural trainer combined with her experience in international education has enabled her to design socio-emotional and educational programming tailored to globally mobile students. SEPTEMBER 2019


Where Will You Go Among Worlds? Among Worlds magazine is open to submissions for the following themes! Email your nonfiction stories, poetry, photos, and graphics to Among Worlds at We can’t wait to see what you have for us. Upcoming submission windows: Celebrations: What, How, & Where We Celebrate Submission Deadline October 15, 2019

Journeys: From Here to There and Back Again Submission Deadline January 15, 2020

Kintsugi: The Art of Repairing the Broken Submission Deadline April 15, 2020

Releasing: Living Fully and Letting Go Submission Deadline July 15, 2020

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Among Worlds September 2019