A third-culture kid (TCK / 3CK) or trans-culture kid is "someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more cultures other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture."


Sunday, December 16, 2012

It’s That Time Of The Year Again

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which is a perfect time to wrap up 2012. I will return in the New Year with all sorts of new material - unless the Mayas were right. I promise the jokes will improve and the anecdotes should be somewhat more informative. Like the pirates used to say, "the beatings will continue until morale improves." I appreciate the many requests that made it into my inbox over the year and your messages of support finding the information provided useful. If I managed to make a difference for some of you, then all the efforts throughout the year have not been in vain.

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree

Many of you following this blog (having followers makes me feel a little like Moses) over the past two years can guess that I will spend the most wonderful time of the year with my great family. Indeed I will and I find it truly makes this the most magical season of the year. Friendship and family are priceless yet they are the best gift we could ever receive or give. I always look forward to the Christmas holidays because it is once more a time to slow down the usual pace and enjoy the little things that make living such a blessing.

Every year brings a sack of challenges that encourage some among us to look forward to a brand new year that can only be better than the last. I prefer to see things from a different standpoint - guess I am a glass-half full kind of guy. It’s not about what has happened throughout your life but how you face each individual situation and bounce back. This is what shapes our present and sets the stage for a future presenting a magnificent world of opportunities and room for change. This may all sound like wishful thinking to some of you, but its worked wonders. Miracles are in our own hands.

Hopefully the stories of events past that I have endured "gracefully" with my family and on my own have given some contrast to your own plight and nudged you along the way. When we come into this world, nobody gave us an instruction manual and we feel like our internal compass is busted. In my teenage years and early adulthood this was certainly the case and wished for someone to come up and say, “Hey Will, this is how it’s done.” In fact, we all have our own unique paths to walk in life, but shared knowledge can help along the way.

With my favourite little ones, my niece and nephew

During this festive season, I wish you all a very merry Christmas filled with joy, laughter and special moments that you’ll be able to look back to with a smile until Christmas 2013. We all know the world is not coming to an end this December, but hopefully some of our negative excess baggage is left behind and buried to have a fuller, healthier life. To those spending time away from your families or have no one to spend the holiday season with, you will be in my thoughts as always and there is light at the end of the tunnel. You will never walk alone!

Warm Christmas wishes and all the best for 2013 to you and yours!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Getting To Know Your Fellow Canadian

This weekend, I figured we should continue on the road to higher learning, following the trend of last week’s blog on Canadian expressions. I am proud of you all for successfully passing the course (little did you know I was keeping score). Your certificates are all in the mail. Now, we need to go beyond just sounding Canadian.

In order to truly fit in among the building blocks of different cultures and traditions, I have always found it essential to discover as much as I can such as: what is issues to they relate to, what activities do they enjoy, what should you avoid mentioning, what is the national protocol for shaving, etc. Here are some of elements – not ranked in any particular order - that make Canadians who they are.

      1.     Nature: Canada’s playground

For the most part, we are urban people (about 80% of us). Our daily battlefield is on the asphalt streets in between concrete structures and glass towers where we ride subways, buses and trains holding our trusty cup of Tim Horton’s coffee. Canadian civilization would disappear without coffee. We are among the better-connected civilizations in the world of communications and social media even though competition in these markets is minimal.

Many among us reward our responsible attitude and work ethic with a well-deserved retreat into the wild with our friends, our families or even just on our own. We need that escape into the country. It doesn’t matter if it is 30 degrees or 30 below outside. We enjoy the gift of nature and the space we have within our borders to hike, skate, canoe, ski, camp or anything else we can think of do to outdoors. That is time to disconnect from the technology that runs that other life we left back home.

      2.     Patriotism with tolerance

During my time in Europe and Latin America, I noticed that many countries’ national flags are displayed primarily in government offices or during official functions. In other countries, the flag symbolizes nationalism with a twist of exclusion. To think that days of racial and ethnic tension are far in the past is to deny a true sense of an alarming reality.

You will notice that we hang our flag high. People wear toques, shirts, jackets and caps (even hang a flag in their living room) as a sign of love and respect for a country that accepts. We are a country of immigrants – including those who left England and France to colonize the brave New World – and we are proud to continue to welcome those fleeing persecution or simply looking for a fresh start.

      3.     There is always time for manners

In general, Canadians are not “in-your-face” people. We enjoy peace, quiet and most importantly, personal space. I know you might be thinking: “Sounds like a land of retirees.” We know some people need a taste of the wild life, eccentric living and borderline rude behaviour, which is why we have Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. We basically treat people the way we expect to be treated. Keep it simple.

      4.     It’s all about hockey

Some people founded religions while others built great public works to stand the test of time. For a Canadian, it’s all about hockey. We have an NBA basketball team, an MLB baseball team, a few MLS teams, but we also have several Stanley Cups – the highest honour in the world of hockey gifted by Lord Stanley himself. Hockey and the weather give Canadians plenty to talk up a storm! Here’s a fact few people outside of Canada know: we saved the world from a nuclear apocalypse by schooling the Soviets in hockey back in the 70s. You’re welcome world!

      5.     Social Healthcare

Ok, sure our hospitals are not what they used to be. Our public medicine is hurting but it is still spectacular for emergency treatment. Is healthcare in Canada free because we are a bunch of commies? Nope. We pay taxes every year to keep our hospitals going, our doctors smiling and our patients out as soon as possible. There is no better feeling than leaving a hospital after an operation without wondering how on earth you will pay off a huge bill in thousands of instalments.

I hope this second course in our lesson plan sheds is up to your standards. Should you have any complaints or may be looking to demand a refund, please head on down to the Canada Post Office in the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse that closed a couple of years ago. They have plenty of time to deal with the public now. Thanks for tuning in once more my friends and see you next week!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Speak Canadian

Since the beginning of time, men and women have always felt the need to communicate effectively through verbal avenues – some more than others, wink wink. Language evolved through specific environments, common challenges and shared interests which we can now consider "regionalisms" or "nuances". This certainly applies to us up here as well. We developed our unique manner of speaking somewhat different from our American cousins and the British Empire although some elements of these two cultures have made it into our own colloquialisms.

If you want to brush up on your Canadian or plan to blend in should you decide to spend some time up here, make sure to add some of these "beauties" to your lingo:

  • Not too bad: Typical answer to someone asking how your day is going. Any other answer is just not Canadian. We know things could be worse and they are not so great because of the taxes we pay versus the Americans.
  • Double double: When visiting Tim Horton’s (also referred to as Timmy Ho’s, Timmy’s or Tim’s) or any fine coffee establishment, if you need two milks and two sugars, this is the only way you’ll sound Canadian when you order. You’ll also think you’re cool when you say it.
  • Loonie: We have a one-dollar coin with a loon on it. No mystery there. Nobody calls it a dollar, it is just not right. We also have a two-dollar coin with a polar bear on it called a Twoonie. Aren’t we just so neat?
  • Brutal: There is only one way to communicate things have not gone well at all for you today. i.e “My meeting today was brutal.”
  • Two-Four: This is used to describe a case of 24 beer bottles. This is your most important expense in Canada when visiting the beer store (yes, we can only buy beer at dedicated stores unless living in Quebec… weird eh?).
  • Hydro: Most residents in English-speaking countries get an electricity or light bill. We get hydro bills. Our electricity is just the same as yours and it is not made out of water.
  • Poutine: This low-fat dish consisting of French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds is guaranteed to fill your heart with joy and lower your cholesterol immediately. The grease is what makes us look so good!
  • Beaver Tails: Now, don’t freak out there. We are not senseless carnivores. These are traditional fried pastries in the shape of a beaver’s tail with a light dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon - although newer toppings include ice cream, maple or chocolate syrup or fruit.
  • To table: When we say this in Canada, we mean to bring up a subject we wish to discuss immediately. Americans usually mention this when they want to put an issue aside that could be picked up on another occasion.
  • You’re welcome: Many times I have said “thank you” in the US, people tend to respond with an expressive “mm-hmm” or “uh-huh”. We don’t do that here. We prefer words even if we are moody, upset or groggy and tend to respond in a complete sentence or just say nothing at all.

There are many other common expressions in Canadian English from sea to shining sea and it is important to preserve this precious language. We cannot assume that one’s language is better or more appropriate than someone else's as different circumstances occurring over years contributed to shaping entire cultures. Anyway – which can commonly be said “anyways” up here – hope this cheat sheet helps when you come up North for a visit. Give'er!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Let There Be Apes

This weekend, I am going to lighten up the mood a bit by sharing yet another animal oriented anecdote. In March 2007, I travelled with my folks to Spain where the primary purpose of the trip was strictly vacation. Since graduating from university, my radius of operation had been greatly restricted. My regular weekends were either busy with work-related activities or spending time in Kingston, visiting my grandfather in a nursing home. The headquarters for the holiday in La Madre Patria was the colourful beach city of Islantilla, near the southern border with Portugal.

The Rock as seen from the RAF airstrip

One of our longest day trips was to Gibraltar, about a 4-hour drive. Why Gibraltar? Honestly, my father and I wanted to see the Barbary apes – not to be confused with the Burberry apes, those very fashionable primates. In fact, the history of this tiny 6.8 square kilometer (2.6 square miles) British overseas territory on the edge of Andalusia is quite interesting. These humongous natural rock formations on the European – which can in fact be seen from quite a distance across the bay - and African shores, serving as the gate to the Mediterranean, were referred in ancient times as the Pillars of Hercules.

The English captured Gibraltar in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession – a major European war over the unification of the Kingdoms of France and Spain under a Bourbon monarch. It served for several centuries as a strategic base for the Royal Navy and the small settlement of 30,000 Gibraltarians is very distinct from La Linea on the Spanish side. It remains perhaps one of the few border crossings left within the European Union with a controlled customs checkpoint. This small piece of land marks a contentious political divide between Spain and the UK. As a matter of fact, this was my first trip to the UK! Upon clearing the border crossing, one must then carefully traverse the width of a Royal Air Force tarmac before entering the settlement.

It was really curious that such a minuscule settlement remains quite heavily armed. The town actually resembles a tropical or sub-Saharan version of England leaving no doubt on their allegiance to Her Royal Majesty. We rushed through town looking for a way up the rock to see our apes – we were on a tight schedule. The importance of these glorious creatures to the people’s sovereignty is key. Popular legend has it that as long as the Gibraltar Barbary macaques exist on Gibraltar, the territory will remain under British rule. In fact, in 1942, their population dwindled to just a handful so British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered their numbers replenished from Morocco and Algeria due to this belief.

An ape in service of the Queen

After several obstacles, such as high winds and pricey full service tours of the rock, we decided to climb from sea level to about 200 meters to find the apes’ pen. I was surprised that they were all out in the open and able to roam wherever they please. One of the apes noticed my father was carrying a plastic bag, snuck up behind him and ran off with our supply of water bottles. This was the first time I ever was mugged by an ape. After this unfortunate violation of personal property and having enough fun among our new friends, we decided to head back down the rock and return to Islantilla. As soon as we made it back to downtown Gibraltar, I spotted a Barbary ape sitting on a tree eating a cake. Guess we didn’t need the hike after all. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Road To Rio: No Samba For Canada

Canada is often recognized internationally as an ice hockey powerhouse. This indisputable fact is a source of great pride for the average Canadian. These fine specimens will even mortgage their homes to ensure their son becomes the next Wayne Gretzky (Canada’s Maradona) with tens of thousands of dollars “invested” financing the dream. It may not be Junior’s dream, but hey, if he becomes a star, I am taken care of! You will find peewee hockey leagues – children’s competitive leagues – with a head coach dictating team strategy accompanied by up to three team coaches teaching young prospects stick handing skills, puck handling, speed skating and endurance.

The children opting for soccer (aka football or footy), the fourth most popular recreational sport in the country, have some large balding fellow smoking a dollar store cigar, arguing with his ex-wife over alimony on his phone as a head coach. He paces along the sideline wheezing away giving only an occasional outburst of flatulence as encouragement to his squad – well at least that can guarantee some humour for the children. Some kids wear flashy uniforms, others their favourite jerseys from European clubs. Regardless of the wardrobe, each of them tries to emulate the gods of the beautiful game on a much lower budget than ice hockey. The ball bumbles back and forth following an erratic ebb and flow facilitated by a referee who is as familiar to the sport, much like a baboon dismantling land mines. On more frequent occasions, an unbiased observer may even notice the actual absence of a match official altogether – sometimes ideal when faced with the former scenario. Developing young fresh talent starts at this age.

As a soccer fan having witnessed first-hand some of the greatest moments in the game, I sense discrimination toward the sport in the Great White North. A discrimination fuelled by a lack of financial interest. We can hardly call our national leagues professional, as we lack a top tier division such as the EPL, La Liga, the Serie A or even the Congolese Première Division. We do have a minor role in the MLS, which is more of a conglomeration of franchises rather than neighbourhood or city clubs that fight to the last drop of blood, sweat and tears to avoid relegation. If you have the cash, a fan base and a neat stadium with a food court and shopping centre, you may be able to join the league so long as you can keep a profit. It is not a league based on merit that rewards perseverance and punishes underperformance. That’s the same American professional sports model that saw teams like the Seattle Sonics disappear or the Lakers move to a city without any lakes. It works for their market but tarnishes the structure and philosophy of international football – I mean that game where the ball is kicked, not carried across the field – and most importantly hinders nurturing talent.

Canada’s dreams of making it to the next world cup in Brazil were decimated by a Honduran team on a mission, losing a must win game 8 goals to 1. That sounds more like a hockey or baseball result but it is our usual exit strategy in the qualifying process. After such an embarrassing result, we should not worry about not making it to the big stage, as perhaps better teams could have set Guinness Records trouncing our lads. Is there anything we can do for the next season in qualifying for 2018? Maybe not. The only solution to our football malady is travelling to Brazil with a suitcase full of passports and dole them out in an effort to recruit the next Neymar or Ronaldo, hoping to bring to prop up our lack of natural abilities nurtured from a young age. The only obstacle to this prescription is that our government may not feel this is a proper use of our Citizenship and Immigration Department. I guess foreign policy is all in the eye of the beholder. Anyway, our women are pretty amazing in contrast to the men, although FIFA politics have played a controversial role leading to multiple shortcomings.

Canadians sports fans are generally supporters backing only a clear winner. When the tide changes, so does their wavering support. Although Canada won the CONCACAF Gold Cup back in 2000 beating guests Colombia 2-0 in the final, the victory hardly raised the profile of the sport nationally. I recall the game was played before a practically empty stadium somewhere in the US. Fans in Canada are quick to stand behind the national teams representing their ancestral origin or any other country much like they would pick one of the teams in the US franchise-based league before backing our local boys. There is no hope for a Cinderella story or underdog triumph in the hearts of Canadian soccer. Should we see a change in this support, we should begin to witness the birth of a new game and hopefully a true economic investment, turning Canada’s fourth preferred recreational activity into something resembling an international team.