Spring Awakening ~ Highlights From the FIGT 2014 Conference

My anticipation grew as the plane took off from Denver, headed to Washington Dulles airport. An early morning flight had brought me from Calgary, one on which I dozed off, trying desperately to keep my head from falling onto the unknown shoulder next to me.

Families in Global Transition Conference 2014 was about to begin. My 5th time attending and 4th time having the honour of presenting – excitement brewed within. Memories of FIGT’s past flashed across the billboard of my mind: unknown feelings at the 1st conference, quickly replaced with a sense of “at home” – an unusual feeling for an ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid). As a professional, I have gained new learning and tools to add to my tool kit. Networking is always a favourite part of FIGT. Their move from Houston to Washington – an “I-fit-here” sense with each conferences I attended. A place where understanding, respect and open-mindedness were mutually shared through presentations and amongst relationships. A bond created from both the excitement as well as the pain of international living.

What would make FIGT 2014 unique? It didn’t take long to find out. I hadn’t stepped both feet into the lobby, when I heard my name, and there was a friend. Someone I had met at a previous FIGT. Others that were on-line acquaintances. Many this year were new to the FIGT community, which added vibrancy. It felt like a family reunion – the kind where you’re enveloped in hugs, accepted for who you are, and challenged through questions and thought provoking conversations.

The theme was “The Global Family Redefined”. Many topics were similar to past years – caring for the global family, transitions, third culture kids, adult third culture kids, the accompanying partner, to name a few. What took me by surprise was the emotions that awakened in me throughout the various presentations.

A smile came when Ray S. Leki, director of the Transition Center for the US Department of State in the opening keynote, spoke of accompanying partners as “spartners”. We just don’t know what to call them, do we? Trailing spouse sounds like something dragged behind a truck. Accompanying spouse brings the image of another piece of luggage. Could this be an affirming, empowering word that allows us to keep smiling?

In a concurrent session, Patricia Stokke, a college professor teaching global management, presented doctoral research findings that Adult TCK’s act global-mindedly beyond the norm. This confirms what many of us knew already. Gratitude permeated my soul, realizing my three young adult kids fit this category. Over the years, I’ve seen them feel the pain of loss and the struggle to find identity. Supported and empowered, they’ve emerged as global minded leaders.

During the Ignite Sessions, each speaker had about 7 minutes to engage the audience, all the while a slide show flashed along automatically. Fast paced it was, covering the positive power of difference in cultural diversity, the benefits of cloud based technology for expatriates; then mentoring for TCK’s transitioning into adulthood and the need of documenting the expatriate experience. Finally the relationships and appreciation built for those who serve in our homes. The excitement and buzz in the room was tangible, as each presenter spoke forth in their area of expertise.

One ignite session was especially poignant. Julia Simens, author of Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child, shared wisdom and personal stories of appreciation for the many host country people that come and go in our lives. I was transported back as a young child, growing up in Malaysia. As a teenager in Hong Kong. And as a spartner in Indonesia, Cambodia and Kuwait. I see each cook, house help, gardener and night watchmen – and recall significant memories of laughter, connection as humans (specifically those who were mothers), and their acceptance of my language blunders. With new eyes I realize that they were a part of our family. I see them in this new light because they ‘saw’ me and gave sacrificially of their love. Tears of love and admiration freely flowed.

Dr. Fanta Aw, AVP of Campus Life at American University, in her keynote address, reminded us that it takes a village to raise a child. “We live in a web of interconnected relationships”, she said, “Family are the people we claim and who claim us”. I began to name all the people who have claimed me, who I have claimed over the decades of my life, in all the different places I’ve lived. Jubilation sparked within. What a reminder for us as global families, who live far from extended blood relatives. Our family is made up of uncles and aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews that are multi-cultural and diverse. Those who come from our expat and host communities, our children’s schools, and our business/organizational circles. Those that touch us with friendship, help, understanding and honour.

Saying goodbye was challenging, as it always is for a TCK/ATCK. Knowing I had added more members to my family made it significant. As I returned to Calgary, snow was falling and winter was hanging on. However, spring had emerged within me at FIGT. My passion has been rejuvenated in working with individuals and families who choose this life called ‘global’. Thanks presenters, planners, and all those who participated.

Becky Signature 2

Comments

  1. This is such a lovely post, Becky. I could picture everything you described, could feel the emotions you went through and I felt like I was back at the conference. It was only my first time attending FIGT, but I didn’t feel like the ‘new kid’ because like you said: “It felt like a family reunion – the kind where you’re enveloped in hugs, accepted for who you are, and challenged through questions and thought provoking conversations.” From what I experienced, that sentence truly captures the essence of FIGT.

  2. Expat Family Resilience Coach says:

    Thanks, Dounia! You’re hooked! See you next year!

  3. Thank you Becky for your post.
    You brought me a few weeks back in Washington DC.
    It was my first conference and my first official contact with the Expat Community. You absolutely hit the mark with the feelings: I realized how important are the relationships with my extended family which has been enriched by new amazing members met at the conference.
    Already ready for the 2015 Conference!

  4. Expat Family Resilience Coach says:

    Chris, so good to have met you at FIGT 2014.

  5. A great summary of the conference and emotions. It still feels fresh for me too. I really enjoyed reading your post. Thank you

  6. As a “we just don’t know what to call them” person, I am still looking for the ideal name. I could live with “spartners” but I know that next year at FIGT I will hear another new term and love it! I enjoyed all the run ins with returning conference folks as well as meeting all the new people. Your article captured the feeling of the group!

  7. Beautifully written, Becky, really. Super stuff. Brought it all back. Every year, before going to FIGT I say it will be the last one and every year, when I leave I say ‘see you next year’. Next year will be my 12th FIGT. Something magic about that place.

  8. Expat Family Resilience Coach says:

    Thanks, Jo. I say the same thing and keep going back!

  9. Hi Becky,

    Very nicely written, such a sense of how it was, coupled with a powerful reminder of the interactional mix of FIGT; ideas, friendships, dicussion and inspiration, its all in there…. Thanks

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