Highlights from the Families in Global Transition conference

This year the Families in Global Transition conference moved across the pond for the first time. Since it now took place in Amsterdam, I was very happy I could finally join in what became a very moving conference, with many personal stories being shared. Here, I share some of my highlights of this conference.

Families in Global Transition
As the name of the conference shows, it was all about families who, at some point, have been living abroad. Many of the speakers and attendees were expats this very moment, or had been living abroad at some point in their lives. Many were ATCKs (adult third culture kids) – having spent a significant amount of their developmental years abroad. This is what unified many of the FIGT participants – this shared history of moving across cultures as a kid. And they have many stories to tell…

The need for “adding empathy back in”
One of the (many) highlights was the keynote speech by Christopher O’Shaughnessy, who emphasized the importance for bringing more empathy to a world that is currently very vulnerable. More and more people are lonely – and that has a devastating effect on their health. Through his own stories, he brought home the importance that even a small gesture can have great effects – simply talking for a few minutes with someone who is ‘on the outside’ can help a great deal. It can make a huge difference for that person, as O’Shaughnessy showed in his story, but also for the world. As Dutch terrorism expert Beatrice de Graaf stated*, one of the best ways to undermine terrorism is an open and inclusive society. And we can do something about this, since we have the experience of being on the outside when moving to a new country. O’Shaughnessy: “We can add empathy back in”. This message was echoed by Ruth van Reken’s keynote on the second day: “We are players in the field, we have been living it, and can bring things to share”.

Connecting with ‘home’
A key theme in my research is connecting with those around you, partiJournalscularly host nationals, since there can be many great things that can come out of it. But it is also important to keep in touch with those we leave behind. Especially if you are moving from country to country, your family ‘back home’ might gradually drift away. One idea that I really liked was the circle journal, which travels between, for example, grandparents and their grandchildren. Each chronicles their daily life for a while, complete with pictures, and then sends it to the other. I thought that could be a great way to keep in touch, and a tangible memory to boot. Another recommendation for those who are away from ‘home’ (whatever that may be) for a long time, is to keep investing in learning the native language, even if the children don’t need it on assignment. Children might decide to go ‘home’ at some point and study there, and they will have an easier time to feel ‘at home’ if they at least speak the language fluently.


Photo of the journals by Barry Silver, via Flickr.

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