Finding home as a Third Culture family

Interior Of Busy Family Home With Blurred Figures

 \ ˈhōm  \

home[1] noun

1: one’s place of residence

2: the social unit formed by a family living together

3: a familiar or usual setting: congenial environment. the focus of one’s domestic attention

4: a place of origin. one’s own country

Where is home for you?

Is it where you hang your hat? Where the heart is? Where your parents live? Is it any-where at all?

For Anthropologist and lifelong expat Ginny Philps, home has always been more a feeling than a destination. “I was born in Ireland and lived in Oman as a young child” begins Ginny, whose father was a Civil Engineer. “When I was 8, [my sister and I] went to Boarding School in the UK while my parents remained abroad in Nigeria, which at the time was a challenging environment with no established international school system. Some people have a strong negative reaction when I tell them this, like it was really terrible. But, I had an amazing time and built really strong friendships. My mother was a teacher, so she could visit every school holiday and half term. We were only ever apart for 5-6 weeks at a time, and our grandparents lived only ten minutes away.”

Courtesy of Ginny Philps, pictured

Although Ginny’s parents resided thousands of miles away, she experienced a lot of happiness and stability in her childhood. “When you grow up living as an expat kid, it’s in your blood in a way. I was very fortunate that we had a family base in the UK, but I always felt at home living and moving to different places.”

Home for each other

After graduating with an advanced degree in Anthropology from Edinburgh University in Scotland, she met and married a man who, like her father, was keen to travel and work abroad. “We didn’t know it at the time, but our parents were from neighboring villages [in the UK]. We realized we had mutual connections.” Their first international move together was for a work assignment in Cairo, Egypt. After that, the couple moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, then to Brisbane, Australia. “Two of those international moves were made all the more exciting by the fact that I was well into my third trimester of pregnancy both times.”

Ginny’s daughter was born in Brazil while her younger son was born in Australia. “My son is very proud to have been born in Australia, but doesn’t have [citizenship] rights to live there. My daughter is also proud to have been born in Brazil, and she actually does have rights to a passport. But, she doesn’t know anything about [Brazil] beyond what we’ve told or shown her. She lived in Australia from age 1-4 and has some of her best memories there, plus a connection to her brother. So, in a lot of ways they are home for each other.”

As much as they’ve all enjoyed the expat lifestyle, it hasn’t always been easy. Luckily, like many expat families, Ginny discovered an organization called Families in Global Transition (FIGT), which celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 2018 (www.figt.org/). Ginny is currently the Co- Communications Director of FIGT. “One of my motivations for becoming so involved with FIGT,” explained Ginny, “is that I don’t want to feel like this transient life owns me, but like I own it – that I’m making the most of it. I don’t want to feel at the mercy of any move, but like I am thriving from it. The first time I turned up to an FIGT conference, I realized…I wasn’t the only one who was wanting to change my relationship with [my lifestyle].”

Home as shared vision

I asked Ginny about the kinds of conversations she and her husband had about their future when deciding to get married. “We both said to each other we were going to make things work,” she began. “My husband studied geology and would likely be traveling for work, and I knew that when I made the commitment to him. To a certain extent, we’re at the mercy of where the [work] opportunities are. We sometimes struggle to give these kinds of life-planning conversations the time they deserve. It’s always important to me to [talk about] the ease of getting back home. I always make sure the children visit [the UK] at least once a year and spend a decent amount of time there. I’m very fortunate that we’re both British and from the same county.”

In talking to Ginny, I began to understand that her idea of home (and perhaps that of her husband and children) remains in the UK. “We have a shared idea of which part of the UK we’d like to live in. We both highly love and respect this shared vision. If I were an artist, I could probably paint this vision, and he’d paint the same one. When we do go back, it will be more about the children and their schooling than the job. We have a huge amount of identity that is based in the UK. Although, of course, every time we go back little things have changed and you realize you’re not local anymore.”

For now, though, Ginny’s family continues living abroad (currently in Malaysia) with no definite plans to return to the UK. “I know that [our family] will continue to make plans and hold a vision for the future of where we’d love to be, but things may change. Plans are great, but it’s good to be relaxed about having plans.”

Virtually Home

In the digital age, the expat experience has changed dramatically for many families. “We have to recognize how fortunate we are these days,” Ginny considered. “If I look back at what my parents did, they only had letters. Even phone calls were expensive and problematic with time zone differences. Now, you can get really set up [in a new city] before ever arriving. You don’t have to feel so far away from people [you love] when you can connect with them at a microsecond. I can walk down the street and send a photo of something to a friend on WhatsApp. WhatsApp groups are so important. It means when you reunite with people or groups, you don’t feel like you’re starting from scratch. ”

I asked Ginny about her sense of home as an expat. “I’ve learned a few things from living abroad,” she starts. “One, you can lead a thousand different lives in the same city. You can feel completely out of place for months, but then do one thing differently like volunteering somewhere, or meet someone who introduces you to a new community. And suddenly the place can feel like home. And, two, you can say yes to one invitation, and it can change absolutely everything. It’s important not to put yourself under too much pressure in the beginning. It’s not so linear. It’s important to ask, “What are the opportunities?” not “What am I scared of, or what am I missing?” It’s easier said than done, but important to try.”

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/home

Author Andrea Bazoin (say “Bah-Zwah”) is a CCK higher education professional turned entrepreneur, wellness advocate, and writer. She is the Founder of everHuman, LLC (www.everhuman.io), a technical education company that helps individuals and teams delight in their digital lives. Her family ties stretch across the United States and beyond, including Chile, Argentina, Australia, and France. Andrea currently lives in Fort Collins, CO with her French husband and their culturally-fluid son.

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