Ruth Van Reken: The Power of Passion

Ruth E. Van Reken. Courtesy of CultursMag.

Global diversity and all its surrounding divisions, classifications, misconceptions, struggles, ideas and linking factors have never been more complicated to define. However, Ruth Van Reken, co-founder of Families in Global Transition (FIGT) and co-author of “Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds,” has paved the way to solving a bit more of the significant puzzle.

“I can bring the ideas, but I’m not organized enough to make things happen,” Van Reken exclaimed. “But I can visualize things and can help another person accomplish it, which is really fun to watch happen.”

Van Reken is referring to her organization FIGT and the accomplishments she, and others, have pursued in the 20 years the organization has been active. This year, FIGT will celebrate its 20th anniversary with an international conference being held in The Hague in the Netherlands.

“The conferences over the years have been far past my expectations,” Van Reken said. “We initially were just trying to get this topic out there, because most of the trainings at the time revolving around culturally mobile populations were just not helpful. But then, people from all over understood what I was trying to make known. I realized my skill set wasn’t practical, but I had the ideas and interest groups were really what kept the ball rolling.”

The theme for the 2018 conference will be: diverse voices celebrating the past, present and future of globally mobile lives.

“When the organization first started, it was really about networking and helping globally mobile families,” Van Reken said, “but now we have a place that encourages academic researchers to share their work. Now, people in the new generation are really working to spread the word.”

The submissions for speakers at the 2018 conference had an extremely successful turnout with 140 submissions.

FIGT has endured many hardships as an organization; it even had a period where it appeared all volunteers were close to falling through, Van Reken said.

“The only way it survived was passion,” she remarked. “The new generation of volunteers came when I thought the whole organization was going to die. The new leaders were willing to step into leadership and try new things. It took on a whole scope, and was made international.”

FIGT took a big step in the year of 2016 by holding the annual conference outside of the United States and relocating to The Netherlands. According to Van Reken, the conferences were lacking in local attendance in the States, but they were filled with attendees from all over the world. After she made the conference international, it “took on a whole new life,” Van Reken said.

Ruth E. Van Reken speaking at FIGT conference.

“It seemed as though there was a wave of interest among the youth because people are more aware and looking at bigger issues,” Van Reken explained. “I believe that if somebody can contribute their little piece to something, and you do what you can do one step at a time, you never know where you’ll go.”

Van Reken emphasized the importance of starting with likeness instead of differences in terms of uniting globally mobile populations around the world. She explains in her book “Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds” that if we join our conversation about the identity of cross-cultural populations, we can really begin to make a difference.

“We need to start with likeness of what it’s like to be human, instead of [starting] with differences,” Van Reken said. “Then, from there we can use uniqueness among us to accomplish other things. We are really just on the cusp of this discussion, and if we join together in our conversation about cross-cultural identity, we can look at where to go up from there.”



  1. Ruth is such a wonderful speaker! Having met her before I loved reading more about some of the amazing work she has done.

  2. Really cool to read about ruth and her organizations. It’s good to see success of any kind especially when people’s visions come to life. I read Ruth’s book this semester for class and it was really interesting. Really well told story about TCKs and their lives with personal recounts. Nice Article!

  3. This article is beautiful. Ruth is the heart of TCKness and being able to bring to life that we are human rather than we are our differences really captures what Ruth seems to always advocate for. 

  4. It’s pretty intense to have a foundation that has been up and running for 20 years. Especially one that has evolved so much and brought in a plethora of different people to contribute to the diversity of the group. What an accomplishment.

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