Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Tom Sawyer, and many other plays, are at the RAMT theater, a really great place. Katya saw Helen Keller there and loved it last fall.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Differences between Russia and America
(That People Often Can't Truly Understand Without Actually Living in Each Place)
Weather might seem like such an obvious answer, especially to those of you living in colder areas of the USA. What is harder to communicate to others "back home" in the USA is everything else that winter entails: seven months of grayness, for example. We rarely see the sun and it can be very depressing, even for kids. The pollution mixes with the snow and becomes a dark, dark brown sludge that can be very deep, varying from a snow-like consistency to looking more like water from a septic system. Then you have to walk in it for months.
Moscow is expensive! Well, Katya's example of 1 Barbie in Russia = 10 Barbies in America isn't quite right... But three years ago, the Barbie that went along with Fairytopia did cost the equivalent $106 here, while you could have gotten it on sale in the USA for $15... The Littlest Pet Shop digital keychain games can be bought for $9 in the USA and cost $37 here... Some items are even much more expensive here than that -- but not all, however.
In the end, what it has meant for our kids is that the little things we might get them as a reward in the USA aren't things that they could hope to get here. They don't even ask anymore, because the refrain "We can't afford that because it's sooo much more expensive here" has been engrained in their brains. It's very frustrating for them! They know that any special birthday gift they hope to receive has to have been chosen during the trip to the USA that precedes the occasion, or they won't be able to get it. This means that Natalia has to know what she'd like for her birthday in July -- and her birthday isn't until December!
So much for kids' whims! I kind of like that, though... I have almost complete control over the kids' exposure to pop culture in the media and toys --- how many parents can say THAT in the USA? They don't even get exposure to advertising in stores since I don't usually take them with me to run errands, and their peers also have a low level of exposure -- so there's less talk at school.
At times I can really relate to the girls' frustration, though... When Katya has worked hard to save up for something that would only cost $10 in the USA, it's so frustrating to have to wait five months until she can actually buy it... The same thing happens to me when a favorite piece of clothing is ruined, the kids go through a growth spurt or I run out of craft supplies.
Katya sometimes feels quite different from peers at school when she sees that their parents will buy them clothing and toys that we won't. What she used to not grasp is that their parents might, indeed, have spent $50 on a particular item -- but we will often then spend that same amount back in the USA --- getting that item and four additional things instead.
It's significant that Katya talked for sooo long about this one point! Traffic has been a big part of her life here, leading to many other decisions that aren't easily apparent to family and friends in the USA. For example, she would have a visceral reaction to the questions, "Why don't you have swimming lessons more often?"; "Why did you stop being a Brownie?"; "Why do you need a nanny?" (so I could keep her out of all that traffic!)...
She used to have to be in the car to get to and from school and every other activity we did. Traffic jams were a constant and stressful part of her life (and mine!). She knew that I couldn't let her do certain activities that only lasted an hour because I would have needed to allow an hour and and half in driving time before and after in case of bad traffic -- which I couldn't do. (It would have taken too long by public transportation, too, so that wasn't an option, either).
Cars park along both sides of one-way streets, making it a "Mission Impossible" feat to get through without scraping both sides of the car in the process -- on a daily basis. She can sense my fear as I maneuver... It can often take an extra 30 minutes to find parking, too...
When she now says, "I get to walk to school!", someone in the USA might say, "Oh, that's nice..." -- without realizing what a life-changing event this is for her!
Since Russian law requires all cars to stay on the spot, usually blocking the roads -- even for minor bumps and scratches -- she used to see at least ten accidents a week, sometimes more. Most weren't serious -- but she did see some that were bad... People here drive so badly, breaking rules, aggressively... Many simply "buy' their driver's license instead of wading through the bureaucracy entailed in obtaining one honestly...
Poor child to be so afraid of this... (And thank God she doesn't realize the fear parents harbor about how would the ambulance to get our car -- through the traffic -- if Heaven forbid we ever needed one...) Yes, that's why our kids are hardly in the car any more!
Here she shows how she acts as a typical cultural chameleon, having one set of feelings about the police in America and another in Russia. Those feelings aren't QUITE so separate, however... Her American indignation causes her to challenge the Russian police. If they stop me, she and her sister instantly start complaining that they need to pee or are about to throw up, putting on a masterful act about being sick. Once Natalia -- at age four -- even told the cop, in Russian, "Could you please just hurry up and take my mom's money? We're late to ballet!" The girls' beliefs are now overlapped, influencing their feelings in both countries. Katya is so appreciative when we can approach the police for help (directions, for example) in America.
Cultural Differences in Both Countries: Taboos
(Is there anything you do in one country but not in the other?)
Wow, my little Katya is a future PETA activist! She certainly got upset about her classmate's wearing real fox fur for her costume in the class play... She does understand that people have traditionally needed to wear fur in Russia -- but she knows that other alternatives now exist.
She "gets it," though, that culturally fur is acceptable here -- and that it's part of the country's practices going back centuries and centuries. I pointed out, "Honey, they were wearing fur here long before the Columbus discovered America -- and for that matter, the Native Americans wore fur, too!" She thinks that if people were educated about the matter, that attitudes could change -- the way they have in America. She won't be the one to start "enlightening" them, though; she doesn't want to stand out among her peers.
Being a Cultural Chameleon (Fitting In)
She keeps "her mounth shut" about her feelings about fur -- and about quite a bit more, I suspect... It hasn't always been that way. Last year she got in quite a spat with her roomates on the school overnight trip because she wouldn't wear slippers (a MUST here) and she wouldn't share hair elastics (as all moms in America, I've raised the girls to know you don't share hats, brushes, etc.). Luckily her teacher lived overseas and can easily diffuse tensions due to cultural differences!
While she may not voice her dissenting opinions when with her Russian peers, she certainly shares them at home and with her other expat/TCK friends. This, I think, is the key to understanding third culture kids: they have this unique experience of understanding the reasons behind the cultural practices in their different countries, and they grow up making choices about which aspects to take from each in the creation of their own identities.
Best Parts of Growing Up in Two (or More) Cultures
Languages, obviously... As I said in "Part 1" of the interview, she thinks is natural to know many languages, and she has the mentality that she can learn any others she chooses.
She stresses the importance of friendship because she has gone through the pain of feeling it's absence! Moving here -- having to go from having a best friend in New York to not knowing anyone here -- and not knowing the language any of the new children spoke -- was extremely hard for her. She will never take friends for granted.
TCK's who grow up moving every few years often find it very hard to maintain those friendships, however... Each friendship was so intense at the time -- but when one has lived in six or more countries before attending college, it becomes a logistical impossibility to visit them all -- or even to keep up with regular correspondence... I'm glad we don't move continuously; I don't know how others do it!
Appreciating the Local Culture
She knows it's a priviledge to see things other kids back in America can't even imagine. She doesn't value the things a typical young American tourist here would love, however... She doesn't really talk about the circus, or walking on Red Square. What she meant by "visiting the Kremlin" was going on very detailed tours about specifics of Catherine the Great's life, learning eclectic facts about exhibits in the museum. She isn't just "visiting" Russian culture; she has Russian culture inside her in the way she loves certain poets or traditions.
Hardest Parts of Growing Up in Two (or More) Cultures
Not Fitting in 100% in Either Culture
Not feeling completely understood by kids in either culture -- only by fellow TCKs who have the same experience. This is why I think it's important for parents who are raising their kids overseas to provide their children with ample opportunities to meet other children who have similiar experiences. It took four years, however, for Katya to finally meet a TCK girl with whom she instantly clicked! Nevertheless, during the past four years of simply knowing other expat kids, she was aware that she wasn't the only kid going through the ups and downs of being an American kid here.
I think this point also applies to kids in in the "foreign" country who attend English-language schools. There are plenty of cultural differences in that context, too! For one, cultural values and behavior certainly differ between America, Canada, the UK and Australia... Assuming that there are so many similiarities can make it a real shock when differences pop up! Another factor is that the teachers and students in such schools have often lived in many different countries prior to ending up in the current place -- just because everyone is speaking the same language, doesn't mean that many of same issues TCKs face in local-language schools aren't also present. (It is, however, a very different experience to be surrounded by a whole school community of TCKs as opposed to perhaps being the only one in your school).
This one is obvious... It's so hard on everyone...
An Uncertain Sense of Time in the Future
Since we don't know when we'll be moving back to the USA, she doesn't know... When kids at school talk about a certain class trip that usually occurs in a particular grade, she doesn't know if she'll be around to go... It's hard truly having no idea about where the rest of her childhood will be spent. Her friends back home know what their middle schools and high schools look like, have driven by them many times... She doesn't know what school activities she'll get to do, since they vary so much from country to country. School sports? Not in Russia... School play? Not in Russian high schools...
Friday, March 13, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Whoever did this graffiti must be truly stupid... I mean, do you really want to take the risk of defacing a police cubicle which is under video surveillance?
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
I'm purposely placing the video first, then the explanations... Why? Because I'm betting that many readers who have never lived overseas will hear what she says and not "get it," thinking some stuff she says sounds odd or even spoiled. She won't come across as she actually is, and I bet she'll be misunderstood... And that's the point. TCK's are often misunderstood!
So, here goes... And then PLEASE read the explanations. I'm curious to hear how many of you will have reactions that then are explained to you below -- perhaps changing your reactions.
This is only Part 1 of the interview; I'll include Part 2 in a separate post.
The Concept of "Home"
Uncertainty about what the word "home" means. She's not quite sure where her home is, a typical response by TCK's. The confusion comes from hearing us say, "We're going home to the USA in the summer," giving the idea that "home" is the USA -- but when we're there, we don't have an actual "home," a house that's ours... We go from relative to relative... Then, while in the USA, we get ready to go "home" back to Russia. In Russia we know we're here temporarily, so we don't have "roots" here -- and we rent an apartment that isn't ours in a lasting sense. This leads to a sense of instability -- or you can look at it positively, saying that it leads to great adaptability in TCK's.
Concept of Future/Future Time and Concept of Travel
Uncertainty about where she'll live when she's a grown-up. This is quite common in TCK's: unlike non TCK's who grow up in one country -- and perhaps in one town -- she has two countries, and the whole world, actually, in front of her as a possibility. By the age of eight she has already formed friendships with kids who are expats from around the world, making those other places "real" to her. Non TCK's tend to imagine their lives in a linear fashion, with natural progressions: grade school, high school, college, first job, marriage... And they usually can imagine the backdrop to such things. TCK's live in the moment, not sure what the background will be for those events in their lives. They know they don't really have any control over where they'll be until they're grown-ups, so those spaces stay nebulous in their minds.
She just assumes that traveling will always be a part of her life, since she has crossed the globe frequently since the age of three. TCK's tend to remain in motion for the rest of their lives -- if not in practice, in mind (through literary interests, friendships, for example).
She is aware that her non-TCK friends in the USA have never considered the question of where they'd live, since they've always lived in once place their whole lives -- or at least in one country. She doesn't see this as a negative -- but she does realize that it differentiates her from them.
Multilingualism is the norm to her; she has grown up thus far surrounded by people actively speaking a variety of languages from all over the world. Her friends here have been from Sweden, Argentina, Israel and Japan -- in addition to being from English-speaking countries from all over the world and Russia.
While learning Russian wasn't initially easy for her, she now has confidence that she could learn any language if necessary... It's simply what people do if the occasion arises. Interestingly, she thinks of learning Russian as being "as easy as eating a piece of cake" -- mixing up the English idiom and being unaware of it!
Not Feeling Completely Understood by Peers in Native and Adopted Countries
She knows that her friends back in America can't quite grasp her life here; without actually living it, they can't understand what it's truly like. As a result, she sometimes says she feels a bit more Russian when in America -- and more American when in Moscow. This is also common; TCK's identify with both cultures -- their native one and their adopted one. When in one country they tend to be more aware of the other one -- and how it differentiates them from their peers.
TCS's Identify Most with Other TCK's
TCK's tend to identify most with other TCK's -- even if the other child's native culture and adopted one are different! Studies have shown that the simple awareness of what it's like growing up with that sense of a blended culture creates a very strong bond. Her best friend for two years in Moscow was a Swedish girl living as an expat here. Even though that friend spoke almost no English and only a few words of Russian when they met, they quickly became friends because they both realized that they were in the same boat. They never were able to carry on elaborate conversations, but they understood each other's feelings perfectly.
Her best friend now is Agatha, another TCK, an American girl growing up in Moscow who attends a Russian school. Even though that girl is half Russian, she has lived in America and goes there frequently enough to identify herself as a citizen of both cultures. They have told each other things such as, "You are my friend in my heart because you understand me on the inside."
Like most TCK's living extensively in their adopted country, Katya can fit in almost unnoticed with her Russian peers -- so she does have many good Russian friends. Those friendships are different than her relationship with Agatha; she knows that her Russian friends don't know all of her, they don't "get" the American side of her.
She's aware that there is a huge part of her life that family and friends in America just can't understand -- and that what those people in America might think of as odd is completely normal here. She knows that there are different cultural practices in each country, and she adapts when in each place.
Differences in Lifestyle
It's common for lifestyle issues to differentiate TCK's from their peers in their native countries. American kids living overseas are often there because their parents are businessmen or diplomats; as a result, they usually live a lifestyle that is more privileged than that of their peers "back home." Their parents' salaries often include cost of living adjustments, housing in a safe area, travel allowances, some kind of domestic help to aid in adaptation to the new culture, private school tuition in an English-language school. In many countries it is normal to have a driver, maid or nanny. (We're not living a life with all those perks, but some of it applies to us! Even though all of that doesn't describe our life, Katya knows that such perks are normal for many of the other expat kids she knows here -- so she does consider them "normal.")
For example, many expats in Moscow are forbidden by their employers to drive because of their insurance package -- they are required to use local drivers. Life is also so much harder here than in the USA that I really do need someone to help me in the home; otherwise I wouldn't be able to give my kids as much attention as I would were we in the USA. Too much of my time would be taken up by the long, long hours necessary for grocery shopping, traffic jams, and constant house-cleaning due to pollution. Hired help is also much cheaper here than in the USA, so it doesn't mean that you're a really rich family if you have some.
Travel once a year back to their country of origin is the norm, and usually families travel much more than that to get a break from the stresses of living in their foreign country. Many expat families make it a point to travel extensively while overseas, aware that the chance to "hop a train" to a different country as tourists won't be available to them once their time overseas comes to an end.
Even missionary families we know in Moscow travel often to get a break from being in Russia, aware that the stresses of living here are so great that they need to get away a few times a year. Getting away from the pressure of living here is something expat families on a variety of budgets do, so the idea of "needing a vacation" is very real to Katya -- and not a "spoiled" want.
Travel and Vacations
It's also important to point out that visiting relatives when in America really does not qualify as a vacation. The travel is lengthy, tiring, and then they have to deal with jet lag. There isn't much "down time" when we're in the USA since we're always staying in someone else's home (for the most part) and we need to be careful to follow their rules. They can't just "let go" and relax. There's also the stress of getting everything done that needs to be completed before we return to Moscow -- all the medical visits and shopping for the next half year/year. When we get back from America, they're usually relieved to be back in their own apartment.
TCK's also have more stress because they live with parents who are going through the stress living in a different culture; most expat families realize this and that's why they make an effort to have more vacations for the whole family's health.