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, August 26, 2012

I Dream Of Vacations

Security is the last (and often neglected) aspect considered when both vacation and travel are mixed in the same pot labelled ‘downtime’. As consumers, we scavenge around the Internet waves, hunting for flights, hotels and car rentals that best suit our budgets. The thrill of escaping the mundane blinds us, as we are rewarding ourselves for the sacrifices of daily responsibility. The search eventually becomes a credit card transaction, leading to the customary packing of a beaten up suitcase, that faithful travel companion that keeps all of our favourite tourist gear. Now it’s time to kick back and daydream of the exotic sandy beaches, the fine dining and everything related to the exciting unknown, locking the door and everyday life until the return.

Paradise is one short flight away

Many North American tourists flee from the frigid temperatures in hopes to find more balmy ones further South – anywhere without polar bears and walruses prancing around the snow covered countryside will do. When I returned to Canada from my exile, I was surprised with the number of tempting, all-inclusive packages, enticing you to spend a week in the Caribbean. Some of these interesting deals included Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic – the real name of a country people call, “The Dominican” – Jamaica – if there is “The Dominican”, let’s call this one, Jamrock – Mexico and other dreamy slices of tropical paradise. These places become even more tempting to a potential customer when you have to walk on a sidewalk during a 30-below day without taking into account the bone chilling winds. There have been times where I have considered applying as an environmental refugee in the Sahara just because of our winters. 

The truth is, not many people plan ahead or research about where they are travelling once the tickets are purchased. Woo palm trees! I suppose the reasoning may follow these lines: “Why should I do homework when it comes to MY vacation time? The only preparation I need is to be care-free!” I am willing to put money on this one – I have plenty of Monopoly money sitting around in a shoe box - but I am certain most of those who are aligned with this school of thought have probably never come across the words: “consular case.” If you do not take the proper precautions such as reading comprehensive travel guides, watch documentaries or look for news clippings about where you are going, you could find out what this means sooner rather than later. Do yourself a favour and invest in your investment. 

In this part of the world, we often hear horror stories about people’s nightmare-ish vacation. I have heard everything from Canadian teenagers arrested in Jamaica trying to smuggle marijuana back to the frozen North, couples roughed up outside their hotel in some dodgy part of town they never should have gone to or vacationers arrested for disorderly conduct. Everyone likes to have fun yet we all have different ways of experiencing this concept. Just because you are somewhere other than home when on vacation, this does not mean you can switch off your “civilized button.” What happens on vacation, does not stay in your vacation. On the contrary, you may just end up extending your stay in a foreign prison resort in your very own cell, getting acquainted with some of the tougher individuals you were never supposed to meet according to your travel agent. 

When will this vacation end?

Many developing countries have spectacular hotels providing outstanding services for their guests. However, you must take into consideration that the majority of staff can’t even dream about taking any trip with the kind of salary they are on. Some even live in countries where they are not aloud to leave. You may find in some instances that locals approach you, asking for a gift and others just take what they want - you may not enjoy this one-way cultural exchange. Make sure to do your homework and find out what you can do, where you can go and what places you most certainly have to avoid. These are not recommendations but warnings. Doing this routine has certainly guaranteed that my vacations are a proper investment rather than a lifetime regret. Thank you for tuning into this public service announcement and happy travels to all!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Do Spaniards Like Latin Americans?

A question I have often been asked is, “Do Spaniards like or dislike Latin Americans?” There is no simple one-liner befitting of a proper answer. The hispanization of the Americas was a similar process to ordinary colonialism as seen through historical examples, which also resembles the conclusion of a long fought war. History is often written by the victors who impose their culture, laws, tradition and religion onto the conquered, assimilating under the authority of King and Empire. Why not? To the victor belong the spoils. As decades turn to centuries, what was once a conquered and subjugated people soon begin to take on a similar culture as the colonial father, almost as clear as looking in a mirror. 

During my short stay in Madird, I did not personally sense any sort of racism or xenophobia as a consequence to my presence. Physically, I am far from conforming to the stereotype of a Canadian formed by the world beyond our borders which would be, being blonde, blue-eyed and a polar ice skin tone, which could be something a more sensitive person could consider as racism. Personally, I would associate such a stereotype to Scandinavians – but we all know generalizations can often be erroneous – but it seems the entire world has come to this consensus. I speak Spanish perfectly well, having perhaps more of a distinctive South American flair. Throughout my trip, most people I met initially believed I was from that part of the world and when I said I was Canadian, the response was unanimous: “No way man! You can’t be because you speak Spanish properly!” I guess we can agree, that in my case, stereotypes tend to lose any validity as in many other situations. When people did believe I was another Latin American, I never felt that I was mistreated in anyway. 

The only exception I can really make reference to was one evening, where I was in a bar chatting with some new friends I made along the way. The table beside us had three young Spanish buddies getting together for a beer after a long day in the grind. It’s very healthy in their culture to make the most of downtime with your closest friends. All of a sudden, I overheard their conversation as one of them said: “I absolutely love latinos! They are very helpful and know their place in society!” Now, the biggest problem with language is that it is all very open to interpretation, which is the process in which we identify what is said with what best suits our understanding. Of course, I felt offended by such an insensitive comment, especially being in a Mexican-themed restaurant, but also due to my affinity to a continent that had been my home for so many years. Maybe his statement was not meant to be ill-intended? Perhaps he was just trying to say that he felt his people were not particularly helpful and spoke out of place far too often. 

Although, it would be hard for me to say that during my time living down south, people there admired the glorious people of the Iberian Peninsula. The world is becoming much more interconnected, which leads me to feel that we are slowly learning more about other cultures beyond our borders. We all have our dark side which contributes to limiting the way we think and are, which has generally led me to believe that racism and xenophobia find their roots in ignorance, the most dangerous of flaws. A person who has lived his or her entire life in the same city or country feels comfortable with his or hers grasp on reality. They have not been challenged beyond the minor inconveniences of living a rather sheltered life. They were not forced to leave every familiar aspect behind in hopes of bettering themselves in foreign lands. What they know, they know well and there is nothing beyond that. It’s because of this that when a Colombian is mistaken for a Venezuelan, a Canadian for an American, a Catalan for a Spaniard, we tend to feel deeply insulted. How can anyone confuse us for someone we are not? We eat, breathe, sweat, cry, the same way the rest of our countrymen and women do back home, and there is no confusing this for what it is not. 

Spain has become a place where Ecuadorans, Colombians, Argentines, Paraguayans… well, I am sure you get the idea… go to try their luck. When we set up a mighty arsenal of suitcases to skip town, we do this because we feel where we live, we have exhausted any opportunity for betterment and we are convinced the grass really is greener on the other side. People who migrate are not doing so because they are bored living in the lap of luxury as their butler, Jeffrey, tends to your every need. As a consequence of this meeting of Hispanic cultures, some of the Spaniards receive these foreigners as the heroes in the frontlines taking the jobs they do not want to do while others detest the very idea of their presence, changing the world they have always known. For Latin Americans, they will always find welcoming people as well as more hostile ones, just like in every other country in the world when receiving an outsider who has arrived to set up shop.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Seville Has Not Abandoned Me

After a successful run in Madrid making new friends and visiting leading universities, my time had come to head on down to Atocha. This is the city’s main land transportation gateway to the south, both for rail and buses. For about $60 USD, I was able to get a seat on the AVE Renfe high-speed train bound for Seville. The trip’s duration was approximately 3 hours and half. Upon arrival in the late evening, I would be reunited for a few days with my long-time friend from high school, Alejandro Alves and his family. Upon completing their posting for Telefónica in Lima, they too had returned to their hometown. 

La Giralda in Seville

While I travelled at ridiculous speeds through the Spanish countryside, covered under the thick blanket of night, I wondered what the city of Seville would look like. I assumed the architecture would be similar to that of Madrid and the majestic colonial buildings found in the Americas. Being the fourth largest urbanization in the country, I figured there would not be much to see in comparison to London, Paris, Rome – all cities I had yet to visit in my life – or even Madrid. The main purpose in this leg of my trip was seeing my good friend after 3 years. At this point, I realized how fast time can go by. After a brief layover in Cordoba (once again, not much to see through the window in the darkness of night) I arrived to be greeted by Alejandro and his father Adolfo. 

During the next couple of days, both Adolfo and Alejandro volunteered to be my tour guides. I appreciated Adolfo’s company as he explained with great pride every inch of the city, from the towers for storing gold and silver to the city’s motto decorating every item of municipal property. It was a matter of seeing the cityscape in the daylight to realize my assumptions about the architecture formulated in the train were all wrong. I was surrounded by thousands of years or more of history. The old town is actually among the largest in Europe, which includes numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites. The “must sees” are hard to miss, especially the Giralda that can be spotted at a distance. This majestic structure resembles a towering minaret, giving you a feeling of walking around a major city in North Africa. As a matter of fact, this building was originally erected by the Moorish invaders who occupied Andalusia (Al-Andalus) for centuries and were ousted during the Spanish Reconquista. 

As you approach the Giralda, you will notice it was a minaret converted into a steeple and is part of the Cathedral. Funny enough, the main foundations and supporting structures are typical from mosques but the decorations are all Christian altars, images and decorations. The raw materials used to forge these were gold and silver brought from the New World. What would have been of Latin America if all these riches would have stayed in their place of origin? Many of the virgins and altars weight far more than we can imagine and are hauled around the streets in an organized and proud procession during Holy Week. This is a valued tradition that has been passed on through generations. It was incredible to notice how attached Andalusians are to their roots and, although the Spanish people appear to be far less devout as Latin Americans continue to be, these traditions based in religion are far from disappearing. 

With Alejandro, the best tour guide

Unfortunately, my time in Sevilla was hardly enough to uncover much of its history to satisfy my interest. I paid homage to the Virgin of Macarena, visited the site of Expo 1928 and 1992, the General Archive of the Indies and the House of Trade. The diversity in the countries heritage began to shed some light on the uniqueness of the people (‘nations’ as I had previously referenced in my nation-building blog) that make up the Kingdom of Spain. Many of the colonies appear much more uniform culturally in comparison to their ancestors’ homeland. I hoped to make another trip with more time to the Iberian peninsula in the not too distant future to get a better picture of the many realms in the Kingdom.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Spain, The Motherland

Spain became the original gateway to the Americas, shortly after 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. His historic coming ashore in the New World is still commemorated on October 12th from North to South America (with some exceptions, including Canada). The festivities are dubbed differently from one country to another: in the US as Columbus Day, in many countries in Latin America as “El Dia de la Raza”, in Spain as “El Dia de la Hispanidad” and other variations. Although old Chris and his merry men never made it to India - the original goal - they definitely managed to leave their mark on an entire region. The majority of Spanish Latin America and Caribbean can trace back their cultural inheritance from Spain – whether they like this or not – along with an added distinctive blend of aboriginal culture to spice up the flavour. 

Nope, the world is not flat like a pancake...

I first ventured to Spain back in the winter of 2004, with the purpose of visiting post graduate institutions to potentially pursue studies in international law. In Ontario, we generally have a short week’s vacation in February from university called Reading Week, which proved a suitable moment to make this trip. I possessed a keen interest in this country as a South American – a trait developed over years of residing in the continent – and had only a textbook knowledge on certain cultural and historic facets of what was once the Motherland. Of course, few truly feel comfortable in the New World calling the former empire as the Madre Patria. Furthermore, part of my own roots could be traced back to Castilla y Leon on my maternal grandmother’s side, which signified a sort of homecoming once more. It is quite an understatement to mention that I was excited to make this trip. 

I spent my first few day in Madrid, the capital located literally at the geographical centre of the Spanish territory. I was initially surprised that in European terms, it is relatively a new city. It was a small city for several centuries before King Philip II moseyed on over from Toledo in 1561. The construction boom really hit town in the 18th century during the Bourbon Kings rule – and no, the royal family was not from Kentucky or Tennessee although they may have had a well-defined “booze tooth”. Interesting enough, most of the Latin America’s colonial buildings and structures are reminiscent of Madrid’s architecture – they were all built around the same era on both sides of the pond. After spending a prolonged exile in Canada, I felt as if I had travelled to a major South American capital city, with many of the buildings reminding me of downtown Santiago, Lima and Mexico City. 

My first impression of Madrileños was that they operated on high octane or had caffeine running through their veins. For those who are new to this city, you may feel like you easily get on people’s nerves. I hopped on a cab on La Castellana and upon closing the door, the driver aggressively and rudely commented “Darn foreigners always slam the door” – I dumbed down the comment to make it suitable for all audiences. Following this unpleasant exchange, he continued to make strange noises almost to express that he had much better things to do than to drive a tourist even though it was a paid service. Afterwards, he came back to questioning my door closing protocol in regards to his car and I responded with a command to stop his car and let me out. I refused to pay the fare due to the delivery of horrendous service, expressing that I was not willing to flush my cash down the proverbial toilet. Hopefully this gentleman learned some manners, although he must have thought I was the one with the problem. 

Street view of beautiful Madrid

This is not to say all of the city-dwellers were obtuse. It is a very common behaviour I have dubbed the capital syndrome: residents in these cities tend to live life on a different pedantic wave length. Perhaps being the centre of politics, economy and culture is a pressure where many struggle to thrive and become bitter. Nevertheless, I met some very friendly people who did in fact share many of the friendly, joyful and hospitable behaviour that reminded me of Latin Americans. The similarity was uncanny. The primary difference seemed to lie in language. Latin Americans tend to beat around the bush when speaking and often tend to drown you in politeness, whereas the Spaniard does not waste time with niceties and manners. They seem to always get straight to the point, which can also feel rude to those of us who like protocol. Next, I was on to Seville. Stay tuned!