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The Story Behind the Story: Cultural Chameleons — Al Jazeera’s The Stream

It's officially official. I'm a writer.
It’s officially official. I’m a writer.

Before I became laid out by trauma exhaustion, I was a total news junkie. All my life knowing what’s going on in the world has been as important as drinking water throughout the day. Call it a side-effect of traveling, I couldn’t not know what was going on, and this is something that made living in the US both times very challenging to say the least.

My mom introduced me to Al Jazeera a few years back and to date it is the only news media outlet that actually focuses on the truth rather than spin. Example: it’s the first network that covered the Occupy Gezi protests in Turkey, that has reported on the horrifying conditions of indigenous peoples in the USA, and fairly reported on various armed conflicts around the world. If you’re interested in and can handle the truth: Al Jazeera IS news media.

Imagine my surprise when a beautiful little Al Jazeera fairy contacted me and asked if I’d like to be in The Stream to talk about my experiences as a Third Culture Kid. (If you’re in the US you can watch it here.) Basically, I felt all the emotions in the world and of course agreed. When my husband reminded me that Al Jazeera is broadcast in 147 different countries to millions of people I felt all the emotions plus a few that don’t have names yet. Me?! On television?! The mind reels!

Still being an accidental shut-in, I took to Facebook with my stunned nervouscitedness and asked my girlfriends for help with my on-screen outfit. Dozens of friends in more than twenty cities around the world chimed in and voted on what I should wear, down to my hair accessories. The world we live in. WOW. And I’m so glad they did. I would have worn stripes (a big TV no-no) and a too-big flower for my hair had I not consulted with my girls. And how awesome that I could share my getting ready process for my BIG DAY with dear friends all over this planet. I mean, AL FREAKING JAZEERA, dude. It’s a huge deal, man.

The day of the interview came (US viewers see it here) and I was crazy nervous, trying not to think of those numbers — 147 countries! millions of people! — but of course being able to think of nothing else. I was positively vibrating. My body still can’t tell the difference between good adrenaline and the fight-or-flight stuff — the ever bane of PTSD. There’s really only one moment in the interview where my nerves show: when I confuse my age (34) with my husband’s (36) and for the life of me couldn’t remember which age was mine until hours later. I cracked my husband up with that tidbit.

If you’ve never watched it, The Stream is an audience and community driven program that goes into various issues, be it a current event or an ongoing human rights theme. Femi Oke, formerly of CNN fame, is the wonderful host. What an honor to meet and spend time with her. I always suspected she’d be a kindhearted and gracious person, which she absolutely is. Just lovely. And in the researching of the segment Femi found out that in fact she’s also a Third Culture Kid, something she never knew before. Welcome to the club, TCK sister!

Gush, gush, gushgushgush!
Gush, gush, gushgushgush!

The interview went by in a whirl (here’s the finished program!) and of course in the days since I’ve had numerous l’esprit de l’escalier moments, that is, things I wished I’d said or would have liked to mention had the opportunity arisen. Here are a few:

  • Denizen Mag founder Steph Yiu asked me if I had TCK siblings I grew up with because in her experience that can be a big help for TCK adjustment later in life. I did have TCK siblings, but our experiences were very different and we were never close. However, what I would have liked to have mentioned was that I have an older sister who isn’t a TCK from my father’s first marriage, and in fact I feel very close to her even though we’ve never even lived together or spent extended periods of time together. Maeva Peet, one of the other participants, mentioned that ultimately it’s personality that draws us to others, and I agree. I also think that my older sister and I share similar values and a creative way of approaching the world which made us kindred. If we weren’t related by blood we’d be damn good friends.

  • On the question of “Where are you from?” I would have liked to have a said it’s akin to asking about my sex life just after meeting me and my response would be a big, “Back off, buddy! We just met!” But my mum would have been mortified! She watches The Stream every day. See, Mum? I do listen to you!

  • A few years back I noticed that many of my TCK friends’ parents were retiring to places that weren’t their passport countries or even necessarily places they’d lived. My mum also fit that pattern at the time. I drafted a proposal for an anthology project “The Third Culture Generation” focusing on the stories of the parents of the Third Culture, which felt and still feels very relevant to the canon of literature on TCK issues. The fascinating thing was that of the dozens of people I approached everyone said they’d love to read the book, but it was too painful to examine those years and especially painful to write about it for all to see. In light of many of my comments regarding an exhaustion that seeps into the bones of older TCKs and global nomads, I found people’s reactions to my anthology speaks volumes about what can become a problematic lifestyle the older one gets.

  • I also would have liked to have addressed the assumption of glamour that non-TCKs assume when speaking to a TCK. “Oh you lived here, here and here? That must have been so great!” TCKs often don’t get asked how they felt or feel about living in these different places, they get told their life is exciting. It makes it difficult to have a simple chat with someone and requires a great deal of patience. I don’t assume that a person’s life was perfect just because they lived in one place and that’s the life I always wanted. So why are people making assumptions about me? About all TCKs? It’s a great way to shut down dialogue or require that us TCKs bridge an ever widening gap towards mutual understanding.

  • I predict that we’re soon going to see a major generation gap in the new TCKs because of social media and technological developments. When I was growing up we had no email, no Facebook, no smart phones, no budget airlines, no Skype, no text messaging (international or otherwise). We had pens and paper and a landline if we wanted to stay in touch. Now, TCKs can still be in daily contact with friends they leave behind, and I think that will help ease their adult adjustment. Plus, there was no awareness of TCKness at all when I was growing up. Hopefully, parents of the new generation of TCKs will be better equipped to deal with the struggles.

  • Because it felt really important to me during the interview to address the dark side of constant adapting, I didn’t actually have a chance to talk about what I thought was the best trait my TCK upbringing has given me: an ability to connect with people on a deep level. In fact, it’s the only way I know how to interact with others (and what makes being in superficial Florida the hardest thing to cope with). In my experience one doesn’t have time to pussyfoot around and get to know someone slowly. You have to jump right in because in a year or two or a few either you or the friend might be gone, and you would have missed out. To this day I have friends who I consider extended family and our connection is so strong, even though I might have only spent a short time with the person. Sometimes even just a matter of days at a conference or during a trip! Being a TCK forced me to be friendly even though by nature I’m actually quite shy. To this day meeting new people causes me a lot of anxiety, but I work through it because it’s always what I’ve done. And I never know who’s going to cross my path next. All that said, just because I connect deeply with people doesn’t necessarily mean that a friendship always results or lasts. Every friendship needs time, and a few intersections and soul shares doesn’t necessarily a long-term relationship make. Even now at 34 at least once a year I have a heartbreak over a lost friendship because I do invest so much right from the get-go and I function under no pretenses. It’s the price I pay for all the grand friendships I’ve developed being this way.

So…can I go back to gushing now?!

Al Jazeera! The Stream! ME! Oh. My. Gaga!

This was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life! That one of my favorite television stations invited me to be on their show, found my perspective valuable, considers me to be something of an expert on this topic…I am honored beyond words. And I’m starting to see a grander purpose in my life around Third Culture Kid issues. What that purpose will look like, I’m not entirely sure yet. But something marvelous is happening. I can feel it.

Plus, if Al Jazeera says I’m a writer then I suppose it’s officially official. 😉

Let me know what you thought of the show in the comments!

2 thoughts on “The Story Behind the Story: Cultural Chameleons — Al Jazeera’s The Stream

    1. Thank you so much, Redhotwritinghood! (And apologies for the delay, I’ve been away from the computer this week. 🙂 ) It was indeed an awesome experience and fingers crossed I have many more like it!

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