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Posts Tagged ‘Third Culture Kid’

This weekend’s live-recorded call in the Dialogue2010 series left me reeling. Ten women scattered in Turkey, the Czech Republic, Italy and four U.S. states came together to discuss mapping the hybrid life, moderated by Rose Deniz.

Orchid

Orchid by A.Ashman

The hour was early for those of us in Europe and Asia so we could catch the late night callers in Washington and California — but that’s not the reason for the ringing in my ears.

The 90-minute talk, touching on what we hold on to and what we leave behind and the qualities we rely on to live in several different worlds at once, was so resonant it felt like being part of a carillon.

Bells were going off with each speaker’s comment, one percussion setting off the next.

We represented wildly different notes: a Third Culture Kid with a parent in the United Nations who grew up on airplanes, the daughter of Turkish emigrants in New York who was thrilled to start school and join a wider community, a Dutchwoman grappling with a new size of the world in the Pacific Northwest, an American who suspected she was destined for something far outside of her Midwestern suburbia but didn’t know exactly what until she went to China.

A surprise chord struck during the call: we all write and do other creative work, and everyone credited this self-expression as a survival tool, a way to process the high-definition drama of hybrid life.

I wonder about this breed of kindred spirits: were we born with some kind of hybrid gene? Obviously predisposed to compassion for other cultures like the Turkish emigrant, or more subtly drawn to the exotic like the suburban Midwesterner?

What comes first, the hybrid self or the hybrid life? Are our most resonant peers made or born?

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I asked that question during a week of live #litchat on Twitter when I guest hosted this spring. Here are highlights from three hours of conversation with 40 readers, writers, travelers, expats, Third Culture Kids and emigrees weighing in from around the globe. The unattributed comments are my own.

WHAT’S EXPAT LIT?

The interpretation of another culture by someone of our own. — M. Dominique Benoit

An expat writer draws on a collective cultural consciousness to talk about a different locale. An outsider’s view from the inside: when it’s good, it’s the best of both worlds.

A thoughtful expat will question and analyze his own cultural biases. The reader can do this vicariously. — Deborah Davidson

EXPAT LIT COMES OF AGE

So many globetrotters, so many identity issues when home keeps changing. — Jennifer Eaton Gokmen

EXPAT LIT VS. TRAVELOGUE

Travel may open your eyes but does not change your identity. Expatriation sure does! — Emmanuelle Archer

Expat lit is not travel literature since writing about life from outside a homeland does not mean writing from a state of travel. We’re coping with extended life in a foreign culture, navigating subtleties, adapting to find harmony. Personal assimilation/identity issues dominate expat writing, and filter their world. If travel writing is a chance to travel vicariously, expat lit is a chance to live abroad vicariously.

FEMALE VS. MALE WRITERS

Female expat writers do more with identity and assimilation, I find. — Nassim Assefi

EMIGREE/IMMIGRANT VS. EXPAT

If the subject is primarily your homeland and you live abroad as an emigree, that’s emigree lit. If you’re living outside your home culture writing about where you are, and even the rest of the world, that’s expat lit. 

THIRD CULTURE KID VS. EXPAT

Third Culture Kid lit has more multi-faceted identity issues versus the writer who becomes an expat as an adult. The adult expat writer already has an established identity that gets challenged as adult. TCK has been challenged with identity all his life. — J. Gokmen

TCK often means not knowing where home is. Citizenship or nationality become irrelevant. TCK lit can be the epitome of expat lit, a “twice-removed” look at the culture. — E. Archer

AUTHORS, TITLES MENTIONED (travel, expat, TCK, emigree literature, historical and contemporary)

Adam Gopnik – Paris to the Moon//Anthony Burgess – Malay Trilogy//Bill Bryson//Carla Grissman – Dinner of Herbs//Chris Stewart – Driving Over Lemons//Christopher Isherwood//David Sedaris – Nuit of the Living Dead//Ernest Hemingway – Death in the Afternoon//Firoozeh Dumas – Funny in Farsi//Freya Stark//Gertrude Stein and the Lost Generation//Henry Miller//Isabella Bird//Jamie Zeppa – Beyond the Sky and Earth: A Journey into Bhutan//Karen Blixen//Lawrence Durrell – Alexandria Quartet//A. J. Leibling – Between Meals: An Appetite For Paris//Malcolm Lowry//Marlena De Blasi – A Thousand Days in Tuscany//Mary Blume – A French Affair//Mary Lee Settle – Turkish Reflections//Milan Kundera//Peter Mayles – French Lessons//Pico Iyer//Sarah McDonald – Holy Cow//Sarah Turnbull – Almost French//Somerset Maugham – Far Eastern Tales//Stanley Karnow – Paris in the Fifties//Tahir Shah – The Caliph’s House//Tales from the Expat Harem//Three Cups of Tea//Vladimir Nabokov//William Dalrymple

Does expat lit deserve its own genre? Which writers and titles do you consider expat lit, or why not?

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I’d been on the move for a decade when I reviewed Pico Iyer’s Tropical Classical for the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asia’s pioneering newsweekly magazine closed by its owner Dow Jones this week.

…first I’d escaped the radical provincialism of my hometown by shipping off to a ruggedly urbane college; traded suburban Philly rhythms for the pulse of Manhattan; sought relief from the big-city crush by moving to big-sky LA, and finally enticed to boomtown Asia. As one person put it, “taking the geographical cure.”

Iyer’s a travel writer, Third Culture Kid and global nomad, an ethnic Indian raised in California, settled in Japan. He reasoned in his 1997 collection of essays about society, culture and the human spirit that if nowhere in the world is home, all the world is home.

The happy syllogism — or is it rootless predicament? — resonated with me as I jockeyed for a foothold in Asia. I wondered if my acclimation was helped or hindered by a progressive Western upbringing laced by traditional Eastern influences: Kodokan judo instructors, Asian-American summer camps, ‘Asian-cluster’ classrooms. I knew far too much about the East to ignore it for my Western convenience but that didn’t make me Asian.

A decade later PEN American Center’s World Voices festival of international literature asked panelists (Iyer among the writers-in-exile) “How do we define the places we live and how do they define us?”

Where I’ve lived has made the world more accessible but leaves me craving opposing aspects of other places and other mes. New York, California. East, West. Country, cosmopolis. Even though 2009 marks the longest I’ve stayed in one spot for 20 years Istanbul won’t remain my base forever.

How have the places you’ve lived defined you, and shaped your idea of home? Do you feel at home now?

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