The 2014 Families in Global Transition Conference


 Global Event: The 2014 Families in Global Transition Conference

Location: Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, USA

By Dounia Bertuccelli

Global Living – Issue 12 | May/June 2014

It was my first time attending the Families in Global Transition conference (FIGT: www.figt.org) and I was very excited to experience it firsthand. The subject of this year’s conference, ‘The Global Family: Redefined’, was a fitting theme for a community self-described as ‘one big family’ (Norman Viss, FIGT treasurer). During this year’s conference we discussed mentoring for Third Culture Kids (TCK) and how to help them say goodbye; we also learned new terms, looked at how global families are evolving, and watched a spellbinding performance. Here are just a few tidbits from a wonderful conference.


2014 FIGT Officers and Board of Directors: L-R (back row): Julia Simens (board member), Norman Viss (Treasurer), Killian Kröll (Vice President), John Liang (board member), Ghadeer Hasan (board member), Rachel Yates (Secretary); (front row): Mary Margaret Herman (board member), Vania Broderick-Dursun (board member), Peggy Love (President), Ellen Mahoney (board member), Anne Vinson (board member), Maryam Afnan Ahmad (board member). *Not pictured: Karaina Holm-DiDio (board member).

To Write or Not to Write

My FIGT journey began a month before the actual conference when I was selected as one of Jo Parfitt’s writing scholars, along with Cristina Bertarelli, Sue Mannering and Justine Ickes. We were tasked with covering the conference, in addition to assisting Jo with her writer’s forum. Jo mentioned that creating this writing residency was a dream come true for her. I don’t know if she realizes that by fulfilling her dream, she was also giving life to ours.

We kicked off our FIGT adventure with the writer’s forum, where new and experienced writers gathered together, excited to share a common passion. Jo taught us that every story matters, and reassured us that although telling our story might make us vulnerable, it is often that vulnerability that resonates in others. Inspired, we poured our hearts onto paper, exchanging stories that made us laugh and cry. The advice, encouragement and shared emotions that followed made us all better at our craft. It was just a small flavor of the intense emotions that were to follow in the ensuing days. 


FIGT Treasurer Norman Viss speaking to attendees


Jo Parfitt’s Writers’ Panel L-R: Alison Cavatore, Shirley Agudo, Rebecca Grappo, Linda Janssen, Maryam Afnan Ahmad, and Jo Parfitt


Attendees and Parfitt/Pascoe Writing Scholars

‘Good Goodbyes’

Although I attended many wonderful sessions during this year’s conference, one that really stood out was ‘Making a Good Goodbye’ by International School of Beijing counselors Justin West and Jennifer Gold. It made me think about all the transitions we went through growing up, and all the goodbyes we had to do, at a time when there wasn’t as much literature about TCKs – for kids or parents. It was heartwarming to realize my parents had known how to prepare us for our multitude of goodbyes without having anyone teach them how. They led us through various transitions with love, support and encouragement, ticking all the boxes recommended by West and Gold.

As a TCK, it was great to see that these two counselors seem to have an excellent understanding of how to help their students cope with these difficult transitions. I loved the ‘survival kit’ they give to leaving students, with items that symbolize different emotions or aspects of moving. They include a rubber band because you may feel stretched; an eraser to erase mistakes; a Kleenex if you cry; a balloon to remember to have fun; a Sweettart candy because moving is bittersweet… They had fantastic ideas to help the kids say goodbye the ‘right’ way and arrive in their new homes with memories and support.

FIGT 2014 Dictionary

Another interesting aspect of this year’s conference was the abundance of new terms that came up. The speakers taught us new ways to think and talk about the global family. Among these new terms were allophilia (the liking of the other) and beloved strangers, referring to the caregivers who have weaved in and out of our expat lives. We also learned about spartners and ubuntu from the first two keynote speakers, Ray Leki and Dr. Fanta Aw.

Ray Leki, director of the Transition Center at the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Institute, spoke about the changing face of the global family and how the term ‘spartners’ (spouse-partners) encapsulates this changing dynamic. He also underlined the importance of resilience in the members of this mobile community and of helping families prepare for their transitions overseas.

Dr. Fanta Aw, Hurst senior professional lecturer in the School of International Service at American University, reminded us of the age-old adage ‘it takes a village’ to raise a child. Our global village is simply spread over many countries and is made up of family, friends and caregivers. As Dr. Aw beautifully taught us, family is about ubuntu, about our collective humanity that ties us all together.


Dounia Bertuccelli, Cristina Bertarelli, Justine Ickes, Terry Ann Wilson, Sue Mannering and Jo Parfitt

Saving the Best for Last

The final keynote was a performance of Elizabeth Liang’s incredible show about growing up as a TCK – Alien Citizen: An Earth Odyssey (www.cargocollective.com/aliencitizen). For me, this was the highlight of the conference. Lisa’s heart-wrenching performance resonated with all of us. The simplicity of her set amplified the complexity of the emotions and made the performance even more powerful. Many of us understood her struggle to find the words to express her grief while growing up among worlds. Her show told not only her story, but also that of so many ATCKs (Adult Third Culture Kids). Feeling like an outsider, no matter where she was, is a universal TCK sentiment. The way she questioned her identity and where she belonged is something many of us have also struggled with. And finally finding solace and seeing the joy in her life is a path many of us have traveled. We recalled our own stories, memories and emotions as she played hers out on stage, while the parents got an insider’s view into the minds and hearts of their TCKs. It was a powerful performance that left us reeling, yet wanting more. Our silence and tears, followed by a lengthy and much-deserved standing ovation, showed our appreciation more than words ever could.

During my time at FIGT, I learned that the conference is not simply about the official sessions – it’s about all the conversations and stories that are shared. It’s about a community that is spread across the world, yet held together by ties stronger than geographical roots. It’s about allophilia, beloved strangers, spartners and ubuntu. It’s about being part of a global family.

Dounia BertuccelliDounia Bertuccelli is a freelance writer and a Third Culture Kid (TCK). Currently residing in the U.S., she has also lived France, U.K., Australia, Philippines, Mexico and Cyprus. She is fluent in four languages and continues to enjoy a global lifestyle with her TCK husband. You can read about her ATCK experiences on her blog Next Stop: Musings of a Third Culture Kid(www.tcknextstop.wordpress.com) and follow her on Twitter @DouniaB_TCK.



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