Ever heard of ‘parachute kids’? Roughly defined, they are children who get dropped off in a foreign country—or parachuted in, so to speak—to further their education. The kids are usually middle school or high school aged but sometimes younger. Meanwhile, their parents fly back and stay in their home country.
So what does this have to do with Third Culture Kids?
To find out, join us at the special event hosted by the Families in Global Transition!
And we’ll be talking to two experts with fascinating backgrounds themselves:
Dr. Jang Eun Cho is a former parachute kid and one of the few specialists in cross-cultural child and adolescent psychiatry in the United States. She initially had studied to be a surgeon and had already completed half her residency when she made a u-turn and became a psychiatrist.
Jang now runs Cultivate Psychiatry and is the Director of the Consortium at the Harvard Medical School-affiliated MGH Center for Cross Cultural Student Emotional Wellness.
Dr. Timothy Stuart is an adult TCK who is also mixed race. His father is Native American and his mother is Anglo American but he grew up in France and Germany as well as the United States.
Tim did his doctoral research on resilience and trauma at a First Nation reservation school and is now the Head of School at the International Community School of Addis Ababa. He also wrote the book, Children At Promise (you can find it here).
Before the pandemic began, my nephew left for another country and I wrote a little tribute to him soon after. This is an edited version of two previous posts.
My nephew is aged two years and a bit. Sometimes he speaks little sentences, sometimes Frenchy jibberish.
When a plane flies overhead, he hears its far away howl no matter the commotion in the room. Ears perked up and eyes locked with yours—he gasps: ‘Awat? Kouki!’
They both mean ‘airplane’. In my nephew’s toddler language, ‘awat’ is short for pesawat and ‘kouki’ is short for hikouki. The first is in Indonesian, his parent’s language, and the second is in Japanese, his grandmother’s language
So, we pick him up and dash outside to the backyard chasing the sound.
Sometimes we see nothing, and we just wait until the howl drowns out. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of the flying steel as it goes across the sky from behind the roof to behind the clouds.
At times like this, his arm is raised high and his little finger points at the sky. Still sitting in your arms, again, he gasps: ‘Kouki!’
One day last month, he fell asleep and woke up at the airport just after daybreak in another country. He and his parents were on their way to move across the Pacific Ocean. He looked out the big windows—and oh, the delight! So many airplanes, so close to him.
Auntie wasn’t there, but I could hear him squeal from across the seas.
It’s now been a couple of weeks since my nephew left Indonesia. It broke my parents’ heart and mine. We were the ones who had been left behind, not him, but we didn’t think he’d understand.
The other day, we video called him. ‘Jiiji! Baaba! Auntie!’ squealed my nephew as he called out to his grandpa and grandma in Japanese. As for me, he calls me ‘auntie’ because the Japanese version—obachan—is one too many syllables for a two-year old.
In his broken, toddler Indonesian, he told his grandparents that he wanted to come over to their house the next day. My sister, who was sitting next to him, explained that it was too far. We agreed with her.
So, my nephew asked us to come over instead. His eyes sparkled at his own brilliant solution to the problem.
But still we told him that we couldn’t. ‘Why?’ he demanded. It was still too far, we said. We would need to take an ‘Awat’ or ‘Kouki’, we explained.
He told us to take that airplane. We explained again. My sister tried too. My brother-in-law also chimed in to help.
Then, my usually hyperactive nephew fell silent. He continued to sit there, squeezed between his mother and father, on the new sofa in the new apartment. But his eyes were on the floor. He didn’t look at the phone screen again or say another word for the rest of the call.
At two and a bit, he understood neither distance nor time. What he understood was that he was there but we were not.
Jasmine Cochran who was interviewed by the BBC in the wake of the George Floyd’s death as the news and protests began affecting students in her international school classroom. She was interviewed by Sundae Bean of the Expat Happy Hour.
Dominique Blue who is an international educator and part of the AIELOC Advisory Council. She is an advocate of diversity and has been a great supporter of TCKs of Asia and the research that I do.
Daniel Wickner who is an international educator and has been advocating for the importance of affirming students’ identities within the classroom.
To register or for more details, visit the AIELOC website. Scroll down to find the speaker bios, schedule/agenda, and session descriptions for each day.
Why are all the local kids sitting together in the cafeteria?
Saturday, November 14. 9:30AM New York (EST) / 3:30PM Berlin / 10:30PM Singapore & Perth.
In 1997, Beverly Tatum wrote that, upon seeing a group of Black students on an American campus, “The question on the tip of everyone’s tongue is ‘Why are the Black kids sitting together?’ Principals want to know, teachers want to know, White students want to know, the Black students who aren’t sitting at the table want to know.” The same was true at the international school where Danau Tanu conducted her doctoral research, except the main concern was the “local kids” of the host country and the “Korean kids.” These students were seen as “self-segregating” and “not international.” But were they really?
In this session, Danau will demonstrate how the biases and prejudices held by the administrators and educators at the international school contributed to the issue of “self segregation” on their campus. The mostly white, Anglophone teachers acted as gatekeepers for the dominant culture of the school and determined who was considered “international” and who was accused of “self-segregating.” The expectation they placed on students to assimilate into the dominant school culture acted as a crucial push factor that caused students to retreat into their language groups. Danau will also show that the high student turnover rate at schools catering to internationally mobile children can further exacerbate the formation of cliques based on race or language for students who do not fit in with the dominant school culture.
Danau’s research data is based on a yearlong participant observation conducted at an international school and over 130 in-depth, ethnographic interviews with high school students, their parents, alumni and teacher.
UPDATE 3/9/2020: The recording from the webinar is now available online here.
I will be giving a talk about structural racism at international schools as seen through the eyes of Third Culture Kids (TCKs). It’s for a webinar series hosted by the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC).
International educators are on the frontlines of the international school community’s ‘BLM moment’. So, I am thrilled that I’ll get to share my research with international educators on August 12.
I have been following the discussions that have erupted within the international school communities surrounding the issue of structural racism within the expat and Third Culture Kid worlds. The recurring question that seemingly has no answer is: What do we do about the ‘racist’ parents?
When BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and Persons of Color) teachers criticize an international school’s racist hiring practices, school administrators often shift the blame to the students’ parents.
These administrators say, ‘Parents are the ones who are racist. Parents are the ones who want white teachers.’ They imply that the white school administrators are innocent. They claim that they are merely responding to the racist BIPOC parents who want to use money to purchase ‘whiteness’ for their BIPOC children. They are saying that their hands are tied because if they don’t pander to the racist parents, then there will be no money to keep the school running.
Or so the argument goes. How bloody convenient is that? Too convenient.
But is there a way out of this bind? Yes!
How do we convince parents that structural racism in international schools is bad for their child?
Parents will go to great lengths to ensure that their children get the best that they can afford. They pay exorbitant amounts of money to send their children to international schools because they believe that it will allow their children to acquire the skills and credentials needed to get ahead in an increasingly globalizing world.
Parents believe that international schools with white teachers who speak English with ‘the right accent’ is their children’s ticket to a better, more economically successful life. This is because, thanks to the cultural legacies of the British Empire and European colonialism, the current system of multinational corporations and international organizations is dominated by those who can speak English.
But what if we told parents that putting their child through a racist educational system will negatively affect their child’s self-esteem and confidence? What if we told them that it will cause their children to waste time and energy to resolve their struggles with identity and internalized racism? What if we told them that these issues can stifle their child’s gifts and potential?
Would parents listen then? I believe so.
Where is the research to back it up?
Yet, systemic racism works to sustain itself and resist anything that would try to dismantle it. So, you can expect the school administrators to follow up with this: But how do we convince parents that a racist educational system is bad for their children when there is no research to back this up?
Actually, there is research to support the call for equity in the international school system. In Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School, you can find the voices of international school students who are advocating for themselves. Students who participated in the research talk a plenty about the perils of an educational system that privileges whiteness.
There is also a lot of research that has been conducted in national contexts that are also applicable in international contexts.
What topics will we cover?
Recently, Joel Jr Llaban, an international educator who started a petition for the explicit inclusion of anti-racism in international accreditation standards, said that dismantling systemic racism within the international school system is a ‘child-protection issue’.
In the upcoming webinar hosted by AIELOC, I will offer listeners the research evidence needed to convince school administrators and parents that anti-racism is good for their students and children.
I will cover the following topics:
How do we make these uncomfortable conversations more comfortable?
How do students who do not come from non-English-speaking backgrounds and/or are not white experience the international school system?
How do school administrators, teachers, and the curriculum sustain systemic racism in international schools?
How do we convince parents that change is important?
August 12, 2020 at 7am New York (EST) / 7pm Perth.
Join us for the conversation!
UPDATE 3/9/2020: You can now watch The recording below
The Families in Global Transition (FIGT) organization will be hosting a Conversations for Change on the topic of Working for Equity – International Schools and Education this week. Trisha Carter, Secretary of FIGT, and I will be leading the conversation.
I will, of course, be talking about my research!
What will we cover?
the privileges we have or don’t have as expats or Third Culture Kids,
the current discussions taking place in the international school communities about systemic racism,
the international school experience for students who come from non-English-speaking backgrounds,
the way school administrators, teachers, and the curriculum support systemic racism in international schools, and
the strategies for change
July 28 at 8:00 pm EDT (New York)/ July 29 at 8:00 am AWST (Perth & Singapore)