TRAVEL IS A JOURNEY, AND THE JOURNEY ITSELF IS HOME. MATSUO BASHO
Many of us have the notion of travel being the best form of education. Not only can we learn from visiting historical sites, experiencing diverse cultures and tasting novel food and wine, but it can also shape who we are. The journey itself can be a deeper experience, teaching us how to deal with unique situations while learning the lesson on patience. Travel, especially long-term travel, can challenge us to learn a new language and build our confidence when we trust in our own abilities. We can also find similarities between the cultures we uncover, perhaps realizing that people are more alike, than different. Travel gives us opportunities to meet remarkable people along the way, who we can learn from and form relationships with.
Travel is the leading reason we moved our family to France in the first place, to build a life around showing our kids the world firsthand and not just reading about it from a book.
However, there have been moments in my expat life when I wonder if moving our children half way across the world was perhaps selfish, especially during that first year when we had an abundance of challenges. Whether it was learning French or adapting to French custom and traditions, it was heart wrenching to watch them struggle to assimilate.
It is reassuring to cross paths with grown up expat kids. People who inspire. Those well-rounded optimists who walk among us. They seem to have a handle on the world, that many of us don’t. Then I remember, ‘Oh yes, that’s why we chose our expat life!’
THEY MAY NOT APPRECIATE Us SHOWING THEM THE WORLD, BUT LET’S DO IT ANYWAY.
Are Third Culture Kids the prototype citizen of the future?
Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem, after spending two gap years in India with her three children, coined the phrase Third Culture Kids (TCK) when referring to her own children integrating aspects of their first culture, American, and their new culture, Indian, creating a unique “third culture”.
THE WORLD IS GETTING SMALLER
With globalization we are seeing more opportunities for transnational migration and cross-cultural exchanges. While most children grow up in a monoculture environment with a strong sense of belonging to their home country, TCK grow up with the ability to easily change from one environment to another. They also seem to have a knack for making friends. The question becomes, does this give them an edge?
IS THIS GOING TO BE THE NEW CRITICAL SKILL IN THE UNFORESEEABLE FUTURE?
Now, may I introduce the very dynamic Kate Wardell, a TCK who has experienced many cultures, now all grown up, living in southern France. She gives us a peek of what we might expect from our own expat children.
During our conversations, I was fascinated by what the potential benefits, and disadvantages of such a diverse childhood might involve.
Weighing the pros and cons as a mother of TCK, there seems to be a common thread among the avid traveler, aside from a constant desire to continue their adventure. There’s a natural curiosity and a quiet confidence. A wish to experience new things and the courage to try, fail and try again. They believe anything is possible.
Travel is education.
My Expat Life Interview
Who are you?
I am Kate Wardell, 46 years old, HOSTA graduate; divorced, no children, no pets, veteran expat, traveler, avid reader, music geek, wine lover, enthusiastic cook. (This sounds like a dating site advert!) Born in England, raised in Hong Kong, Switzerland and Greece.
What is it like to have lived in so many different places?
If you travel as a child/young adult, one of the most precious assets you carry into your adult life is adaptability. You’re sort of like a sapling, you learn to flex and bend with what life throws at you. That is a valuable tool, it makes you resilient, and that makes you pretty formidable.
Being part of many cultures, are you immune to prejudice?
I think TCK actually have a certain amount naivety about prejudice in any form. If you were connected to different race/creed/colour why would you assert any form of superiority? To live in an environment where cultural plurality is the norm helps young minds weave multi ethnic threads into their own mindset; accepting differences in everything from food, to behaviour and beliefs.
How would you describe yourself, being a TCK experiencing multiple cultures?
Hmmm, well I’m trying to avoid trite sound bites here, so how about a European hybrid with a dash of the Far East. I’m not sure if I now sound like a recipe, or some sort of avant garde motor vehicle. On a slightly more serious note, I sometimes feel slightly ‘rootless’. The concept of ‘home’ is, to be honest, a foreign one. I left England in 1977, and didn’t go back for over 20 years. My father was involved in the shipping industry and his work took us all over the world. The constant shift in culture, language, and history has instilled a great sense of adventure in me, a freedom from a sense of going ‘home’ yet also an awkward pause whenever I’m asked where I’m from.
Do you ever ask yourself, where do I belong?
Our world is, without question, getting smaller. I don’t feel the need to belong to one part of it; better to engage with all of it.
Do you feel restless for change, or travel?
Constantly. I’ve been here nine years; that’s a long time for me. But where I’ll go next – that’s as yet a mystery to me. My itinerant childhood has blessed me with friends across the globe, many of who have visited me here in France, and who have hosted me in their countries too.
Why did you move to France?
The truth is that as we sat around my parents’ dining room table in 2006, we collectively realised we were not very good at living in England any more – we’d lived abroad too long. Certainly my worldview felt cramped when living in England and although I’d willingly clambered aboard the corporate ladder, I knew I had to get off it, or risk compromising my values.
Did you experience culture shock?
Not particularly. Having spent all of my adolescence living just across the border, in Switzerland, I already spoke French, and had spent a lot of time in France. I chose this corner of the country as it offers me the best bits of other countries in which I’d lived.
Kate, typical cross culture childhood, now lives in Languedoc
What do you do for a living?
When I moved here I was working with my father who had been asked to set up a shipping company for the Sultanate of the Oman. Sadly my father died just 2 years after we arrived, and I was left without work, so I had to rather quickly find something to do. Thankfully, my old boss in the UK was happy for me to work remotely so I returned to the travel industry, working freelance. Towards the Spring of the following year, a mutual friend introduced me to Wendy Gedney (a fellow contributor to My Expat Life). Wendy was looking for a French speaking, food & wine loving hospitality type person to help her with her growing business. It’s now 5 years later, and we are still working together. Et voila! In the meantime, although I’ve stayed with Broadway Travel, I’ve also entered into a partnership relationship with a Villa Rental company based in the UK who specialise in France & Italy cottages, which is wonderful as Vin En Vacances and Villas En Vacances are perfect bedfellows.
What did you do to integrate with your community?
It’s a funny thing, moving into a new community. Elsewhere it’s the locals who make the first move – bring you a cake, come and say hello….
Here, it’s down to you; you go and knock on your neighbour’s door and introduce yourself. Quite an alarming scenario for a single women of a certain age, but there we are! It’s imperative to go to the local activities – the fireman’s’ fundraiser – the winemakers’ parties – the lotto nights in the foyer (excellent practice for your French number skills – particularly if you grew up believing that 80 was ‘huitante and not quatre-vingt!) Eat at your local restaurants, drink in your local bars and find an ‘association’ that you can be part of. Expats are shy about joining in for fear that they’ll make mistakes when they speak. Rookie error. The French have an innate pride in Patrimoine, and if you’re helping perpetuate it, they’ll overlook your linguistic shortcomings.. oh and the faster you speak, the less they notice le’s that should be la’s and du’s that should be de’s
Tell me something special about the Languedoc that most people don’t know?
Erm, how about, the Carnival in Limoux has been going officially since 1604, and not even the French Revolution could stop the party.
What is the worst thing about being an expat?
Sometimes friendships are fleeting.
What is your favourite thing about being an expat?
Diversity! And of course, living where we do, we have almost limitless travel options. Within a day we could be in Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland or Germany; and of course the rest of France!
What do you miss the most about your home country?
Honestly, not a lot; I’ve lived more than half my life outside the country in which I was born.
What is a myth about your adopted country?
All Frenchmen smell of garlic.
What advice would you give other expats?
Integrate as much as you can; involve yourself in your community, try not to gravitate towards cliques of your fellow countrymen – it’s a tough one, I know.
If you’re renovating, expect it to take twice as long, and cost twice as much as you budgeted for. And finally, just because you can buy wine for less than 5€ doesn’t mean you have to.
What are you currently working on? Projects, books, business ventures…
Ooof, well, we are in pre-season planning for Vin en Vacances, which is always exciting. We are amazingly blessed that so many of our customers come back year after year, so we have to constantly come up with new tours and itineraries. I’m working with a UK travel contact to get our 3 and 4 night holidays advertised through online travel clubs offered via the mainstream press, so that’s exciting.
I’m always working via social media to promote the holiday rentals at Villas en Vacances
And I’ve just taken on a large new database of customers wanting slightly more standard holidays.
Oh and Kay Williams of the Chambre D’hote Sainte Helene, and I have just started a blog called Flight of the Wines Poured, offering a cheeky view into life in the Languedoc.
I think the most remarkable element of Third Generation Kids are how many don’t identify with any one of their cultures, but build relationships within them all. They mostly connect to people with similar experiences, which creates a world without boundaries. I like the way that sounds. Third generation kids are the future.