My interns started working together and learning each other this week.  In my humble estimation, we’ve had a good two days.  We’ve laughed a lot.  They’ve taken in more information than they can process at one time.  We’ve learned our Meyer’s Briggs types.  (In case anyone is interested the I’s vastly outnumber the E, and when you put me in the mix, the J’s are in the minority.)  We’ve also started telling stories.

This morning we had a high school student join us.  If we didn’t scare her away, she’ll probably be part of our team for most of the summer.  For quick introductions this morning everyone took a turn saying their name, school information, where they grew up, and then told a truth and a lie.  The rest of us had to guess the lie.  I’m used to playing this little truth/lie game with TCKs.  It’s fun and insightful.  Generally their lies are the more common things.  If you’re playing with a TCK and the choices are “I ate an endangered species” or “I’m a middle child,” choose the middle child statement as the lie.

I realized as we were doing this with our high school student, who is the daughter of one of our IT guys, that everyone else’s life sounded rather exotic.  “I lived with a spy for my country’s police.”  “I ate cow brains.”  “I had kangaroo for dinner.”  “I argued with a secret service agent in London.”  Not your typical American statements.

These simple statements create such massive impressions.  My interns just laughed at each statement and tried to figure out which one was the least outrageous, and, therefore, the least truthful.  When I looked at the high schooler, her eyes were just big.

Later in the afternoon as the five of them were working on a nececssary but fairly mindless task, I went to check on them.  When I asked what they were talking about the answer was, “Airplane and airport stories.”  This was quickly followed with, “Tell us one of yours.” I had no trouble coming up with two while they were still asking the initial question.

I love and loathe the assumption that everyone has a story related to air travel.  I love it because in TCK and other international circles, it’s a fact.  On the other hand, it’s loathsome because it can eliminate others from the conversation quite quickly.  While the majority of the adult population of the USA flies at some point during the year (I recently read 85%, but I can’t find the source now that I need it.), it doesn’t mean that the TCK’s late adolescent peers have traveled by plane.  Many have, but not all.

TCKs are great at telling stories that star with “When I was in  . . . ” or “When we flew through . . . ” or “One time we went on vacation to . . . “. It’s normal and good–and really interesting.  I don’t want to detract from those experiences one bit. However, the story needs to end on a conversational note.  After the tale has ended in laughter or tears and questions find answers, it’s important for the TCK to ask about a funny/tragic/memorable moment from the monocultural who sits with huge eyes wondering if there’s anything to contribute.

The monocultural has a lot to contribute.  She has stories.  She may talk about Detroit–a place that doesn’t sound very sexy to her ears in comparison to Dubai–but she has a story to tell.  The irony is, to many TCK ears, Dubai is old hat; Detroit’s much more exotic.

Sharing stories is a critical entree to another’s life.  We all need to learn to listen well, to ask good questions, and to be generally interested in what the other has to say.  Monocultural or Third Culture–it doesn’t matter.  Stories are one of the best ways to connect.

When’s the last time you were on an airplane?  Did anything interesting happen?

photo courtesy of TACLUDA on; modified on

6 responses to “Stories”

  1. Coming home from Estonia. I did not like it, because I had a very bad cold. Not good on the ears.
    I really resonate with what you are saying here. We are all really far too willing to share about ourselves and not near willing enough to listen to someone else… at least, I am. A book we read for AD2008 was excellent about this. It’s called Cross-Cultural Servanthood, written by Duane Elmer. He does a good job of laying out the basic principles of servanthood and applying them to cross-cultural situations. The first step is practicing openness, which he defines as “the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe.” That’s really what you’re talking about, I think. So important. In any context, in any culture.
    Anyway, that’s just what your post made me think about.
    Are you doing your hour a day? I’m not…

  2. Great post, Sheryl. Haha, I was born in Detroit, then we moved to Paris, where my brother was born, and later to Africa where we spent most of our school years. I always was jealous he had the more “interesting” birthplace. Now we’re both back in Detroit (suburbs). (since you mentioned Detroit – see the connection I’m making there?)

    I never felt I had very interesting stories to tell, though. But just telling my simple life story (similar to the line I wrote above), makes peoples’ eyes widen….

    I love what you’ve written here about turning the question around. Problem is monoculturals think THEIR lives are boring and not worth sharing – even after hearing my “boring” multicultural story- ha. I guess it’s all perspective and just takes some digging. I have always felt that everyone has “treasures” to be discovered, if you can just dig deep enough. I’ve had to learn, too, that some people don’t want to be digged (?) into?

    Trying to think of an airport story. I remember the day one of the new 747s pulled up to our gate in (Brussels?) and we realized that we were going to get to board it. Very exciting. I think I have more broken down car stories than airport stories.

  3. What you said about TCKs needing to ask monocultural kids about their experiences is so true, Sheryl! That needs to be a part of every re-entry seminar after high school graduation. Good post!

  4. Wow! I had no idea this would generate so many comments. THANK YOU!!!! I will admit with downcast eyes that I love it when people comment and I get to know what you’re thinking.

    Lisa–Merci, mon amie . . . merci mille fois.

    Soul – Oh my. Anything involving sinuses and planes rarely turns out well. I’m so sorry. That’s so painful. I like what Elmer has to say. (And he has lots of good stuff to say). I think his idea of openness is what’s usually referred to as hospitality–but it extends beyond the idea of one’s home. Welcoming people into your presence and making them feel comfortable. It’s a beautiful thing.

    Lori– Thank you. I know what you mean about birthplace. The more interesting the better in TCK world, right? And even better than an “interesting” birth place is multiple passports. There are interesting status symbols in this world, that’s for sure. It’s true, in comparison monoculturals tend to think their lives are boring. While it’s true, some may actually have boring lives, most don’t. They just compare and the “exotic” wins out. You’re right, finding those treasures requires digging into what they think may be “uninteresting” soil, but it can be just as exotic. I think Cheryl’s comment about practicing openness is key. If they don’t want to be open, you can ‘t force them, but you can do your best to make space for their stories. Wow! You got to ride on new 747s?! That’s pretty cool.

    Thanks, Debbie. I’m making it part of the seminar I’m running this summer. 🙂 (If you need info, just ask!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *