“What makes you angry?”
The answer to that question drove Danau Tanu’s decision for her Ph.D. pursuit. Years later, with her Doctorate complete, Danau’s mission is to fix what’s broken in the international school system.
In addition to her salient Ph.D., Danau’s the esteemed author of “Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School.” She knows what it feels like to fake a stomach ache to avoid the agony of another day in 5th grade. Danau knows the exhaustion of having to act westernized and the consequences of not succeeding at it.
Backed by intensive research, Danau’s work is challenging our perceptions of the “Third Culture Kid experience,” so they can have it better than she did. Much better. Because they deserve it, and it’s up to all of us to move that needle.
Social inequity should make you angry. Convert it into fuel to thrust you to act.
What You’ll Discover in this Episode:
- White as a culture
- Rootlessness & restlessness
- Naming it so it can leave your body
- Asking, “What else is going on here?”
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- Can you help improve the dynamics for Third Culture Kids and their parents? We’re not just changing the expat experience, we’re reinventing it. Join our movement right here.
- Episode 145: Unconscious Bias with Isabelle Min
- Episode 144: Unlikely Connections with Cath Brew and Jerry Jones
- Danau Tanu’s Book: Growing up in transit, the politics of belonging at an international school
- Danau Tanu’s Instagram handle: growingupintransit
- Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Facebook Group – Expats on Purpose
We’re delighted by our recent nomination to the global Top 25 Expat Podcasts!
Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, it is 1:30 am in New York, 7:30 am in Johannesburg and 12:30 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I’m a solution oriented coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations and I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition
Around this time of year you might notice that the international schools are celebrating International Day, a predictable day where children of multiple passports are forced to choose which one country they will represent by wearing a t-shirt or traditional clothing. People gather around and share food representing a region of the world and we celebrate our diversity.
Now is about the time when international schools around the world are celebrating International Day. It might look different in each school, but it’s inevitable that our children with bi-national identity or passports are forced to choose one flag to walk behind in the parade or they’re forced to choose one type of clothing or food that will represent their national identity that day
I get it, the spirit of international day is to celebrate diversity and bring everyone’s culture to the table and celebrate how we recognize our own culture through national flags, food, clothing and who knows what else. And I love that, I love that idea of celebrating diversity.
At the same time, I’ve caught myself wondering “Is this too good to be true?” You know in international schools is it really that everybody is on the same playing field that we’re all mixed up? I mean, I see the diversity of my children’s classrooms and I want to think that these international schools are somehow outside of the scope of geopolitics, and hierarchies of race, culture, class and even gender.
That’s what I want to think and I know the school’s I’ve been to have worked really hard to make that true. But at the same time I don’t think we’re resistant to the hierarchies of social dynamics and global dynamics from entering in the school gates.
It is my absolute pleasure to have an anthropologist with us today who specializes in observing Third Culture Kids. Danau Tanu is an anthropologist and the author of the book “Growing up in transit, the politics of belonging at an international school.”
Fascinating, isn’t it? Her whole PhD dissertation is based on that. And this is my favorite part, to write it she went back to high school for a full year as a 30 something year old adult and collected data by observing third culture kids in what you could call their natural environment of an international school.
Now, I know not all third culture kids go to international school, but we’re using this as one context to look at what Third Culture Kids experience.
In the book Danau gives us a peek into the way the hierarchies of race, culture and class shape popularity, friendships and even romance on campus through the eyes of the youth themselves.
And she joins us today to share some of those insights. And to be honest some of them might surprise you, some of them may even make you feel defensive. But stick around and stay open to what the research is uncovering right in our very schools that your children might be attending or where you teach or where you’re the administrator.
Sundae: You’ve just heard the impressive bio of our guest today, Danau Tanu and the work that she is doing for our understanding, adding depth around the third culture identity, global citizenry and her most recent book “Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging in an International School.” Helps us see things in a brand new way, and that is my intention in having Danau here today.
And It is with my great pleasure to welcome you to Expat Happy Hour.
Danau: Hi, thanks a lot Sundae. It’s an honor to be here, thank you so much for inviting me.
Sundae: And I know you’re on the go, so I appreciate your time, I really appreciate the time, you’re calling in from Australia today, aren’t you?
Danau: Yes, I am, I’m in Perth Australia, it’s a sunny day.
Sundae: Wonderful. So, listen, I am really curious before we dive into more in terms of the Third Culture Kid identity and what that means, global citizenry, can you tell us a bit about you? I mean you have a PhD in this direction. How did you come to study and question global citizenry and Third Culture Kid identity?
Danau: Well, I had been thinking about doing a PhD for about three years before I actually started and couldn’t decide on a topic and then there was this professor that I met and she said, “Well, what makes you angry?” and I’m like, “Well, the question where do you come from?” and she said “Well do it on that.” And I was like, “Is that how you decide on a PhD topic?” And she said, “Well, if you’re angry about it, it’ll get you through the five years that you need to spend on this thing.” And I’m like, “Okay.”
And so that’s sort of how I got into the topic of Third Culture Kids, I started looking into that.
Sundae: So the question, where are you from, makes you angry. I think some listeners here can identify with it. I don’t know if they would say angry, I think a lot of people are stumped by the question. So I’m going to make you angry, tell our listeners where you’re from, tell us your story.
Danau: Well, I’m fine with the question when people actually want to know. It’s when they ask the question and you give them the answer and then they’re like, “That wasn’t the answer I was looking for.”
So I was born in Canada, but my dad is Indonesian-Chinese, so Indonesian nationality, Chinese ethnicity. And my mother is Japanese and so my citizenship is Canadian, but when I was three and a half we moved to Indonesia, and I went to a local school for a year and then switched to an international school until grade 5. So I finished grade 5 and then went to Japan for a year to a public school, that was hard and then came back to the international school thinking I was going to be back home, but then I found that I had become quite Japanese. And so I had a hard time getting back into the international school. Then the last year of high school was in Singapore at an international school there and then moved around quite a bit.
Sundae: I can’t even imagine going from from the local scene to International scene, back to a local scene and so many identities. This is something that I think about for my own kids. My kids are Swiss and American and they’ve been an international school most of their lives and I’m worried about, although culturally were very Swiss, you know in many ways. I worry about them going to a local school and actually feeling resentful to be in a Swiss school and around everything Swiss 24/7.
I worry about that, so how did you navigate that? I mean how was that for you?
Danau: Well, the first Indonesian local school I don’t even remember but the Japanese one was hard because I was a tomboy and in Japan the gender like, you know boys and girls don’t play together. So, I couldn’t play with the boys, didn’t want to play with the girls because there were all these like popularity hierarchies going on that I didn’t really like. So, that was really hard. I ended up not having friends at school, though I had friends at church.
And it wasn’t until I came across the book, Third Culture Kids Growing Up Among Worlds,” which I think a lot of your listeners can identify with that, I just broke down and cried. There was a little article, actually not the book, she wrote a little article about unresolved grief for TCKs, that was written by Bryce Royer. And when I read that article about unresolved grief, I just broke down and cried and up until then the pain from fifth grade, like every time I remembered fifth grade in Japan, because I’d repeated fifth grade. It hurts, like if there’s just a pang you know this pain would come.
But after that, you know reading that article, breaking down and crying it just left. And now I can remember it and it’s no problem.
Sundae: Well, that’s beautiful, like have a name for it. There’s two things that are going on with me, one is as a parent we’ve gone through some tough transitions. Because I had to pull my kids out of West Africa within ten days and we went to Switzerland and our family was separated by a continent and put a kid in a second semester school situation. There were some tough stuff that happened and as a parent when you’re doing that, I’m like, “Ooh second grade was hard for our family.” But I wasn’t the second grader, I was the parent. So, you’re like, “Phew we’re past second grade, now we’re in sixth grade.” So this idea is, you as a parent, you got through that grade for your kid, and now you’re moving on. But what I’m hearing from you is even though as a child who is experiencing that you might have gone through that and have moved on, but there could be some residue from that experience that holds on tight and you might not even share that with your parents. Did you share that with your parents?
Danau: Good question, I think they knew that I was struggling, because towards the end of the year my mom noticed that I would get a stomach ache every time I had to leave for school and she said, “You weren’t lying because you looked like you really had a stomach ache.” But it wasn’t like, I didn’t have any problems. So it was lucky that we left after the year. So, I think my parents were aware that I was struggling.
Sundae: But were they aware that years later, you kept that experience in your body?
Danau: Probably not, because I probably didn’t really understand it either.
Sundae: I think it’s so fascinating and it’s so fascinating to me the one who experiences it and the one who is parenting the child who is experiencing it.
So, thank you for sharing that story and it’s so optimistic when you hear that once you had a name for it that you were able to have that leave your body and then see it in a different way.
So, I think that’s an experience a lot of TCK’s have, Third Culture Kids, have when they discover the term Third Culture Kid, it’s like, “Oh there’s the name.” And I’m going to read it out for them. I still can’t believe people don’t know this term but I always encounter people who don’t know it already. So, I’m going to share it now. The definition according to David Pollock of a Third Culture Kid is, “A Third Culture Kid is a person who spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture, the TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, success of belonging in relationship to others of similar background.”
So that’s what we have from the most recent volume of “Third Culture Kids Growing Up Among Worlds.” Actually, this might not be the most recent, might be the old one more in copy that I have at my desk. But that can do the same thing, like people read it and they feel validated, “This is my experience, now there’s a name for it.” But what I know from your work, it’s not that simple is it?
Danau: No, because I think there are a lot of layers to the TCK experience. There are many things that we share but there are also experiences that are different depending basically on where you are from in a way. You know what language your parents speak at home, what they look like, as in race or ethnicity, what culture they practice at home and how that’s the same or different from the school that you go to, a lot of things can affect the experience. So, for example, in my case I spoke four languages, so English, Indonesian, Japanese, Chinese, and the three I spoke at home and then English was at school. So, I had moved around so in a way like I fit the profile of a TCK perfectly, but when I went to the international school, I hear a lot of TCK’s saying “International school was like home, and it’s a place where I fit in so well.” But for me, the international school itself was a bit of a struggle because the culture was so different from what I experienced at home.
And yeah, so when I read the Third Culture Kid book, there are a lot of things that I could identify with, rootlessness, restlessness, etc, etc. And so in that way it was like a Godsend, like I really appreciated the book. But then I could see that there were experiences, and I’m talking about the, I think I read the second edition, so the third edition got a lot more in it. But when I read the second edition, I thought, “You know, those are part of my experience at the international school, that’s not in the book.”
And that’s sort of why I did my PhD. And that experience is yeah, so for like an Asian kid whose parents don’t speak English or that speaks English as a second language, you go to school you feel like an immigrant and the school, so it’s an experience like It’s like a second generation immigrant sort of experience.
Sundae: And I don’t think we talk about this enough, that is why in last week’s episode with Isabelle Min, Unconscious Bias, she brought that to light. I don’t think we do enough to talk about that. I think that, and maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m wrong maybe because I’m from, I would call it the majority culture in an international school setting, a lot of the curriculum is very American, if not European influence. That’s why I say majority identity, I think that there’s a lot of white teachers happening. When I see the international schools that our family has been to and I see where people are teaching, you know of my international school teacher friends, I think it’s fair to say that if I go to an international school as a parent my kids go there, I won’t feel completely like an outsider or as an immigrant. And I maybe I’m wrong, but that’s my hunch based on what I’ve seen them national school system.
So there’s this this hidden layer of identity and negotiation going on that people from a majority identity don’t see. And I gave the example last week with Isabelle of you know, just like something simple like the PTA, everybody bring brownies or whatever, like okay brownie is a very culturally specific thing.
Danau: That is so good, that’s exactly what I felt.
Sundae: Like I said, my example last week was like, what if someone said to bring samosas? I’d be like, “I gotta go Google that, do I have the equipment at home to make it? How do I do that?” And those are the little things that we take for granted.
And that is why I invited you today because there are things going on that either we don’t have a name for or we don’t see.
And I’m going to share my story of how I encountered you at FIGT. You did a lightning round at FIGT, which is basically like a fast talk around your research of growing up in transit. And my experience in the audience, I was really interested in your work because you talked about the things that were going on in the school that created a dynamic. And my summary, please correct me after I’m done telling the story of the details, but what I remember from it is you witnessed things that we’re going on where kids that were, let’s say Asian identity were being separated and being seen as separate for motives that were different from what was really going on. That there was actually this layer of hidden racism, unconscious racism that was going on, and at the end of your speech you said, “I spent eight years of my life in this research situation in the schools to come to this conclusion to uncover this racism.”
And thank God I had Kleenex with me because I was like, you know a teary slimy mess, because what hit me in the gut was probably the social injustice side of me, of like, why you? Why are you the one who has to do the research? Why is it always the people who are of minority identity or disadvantaged in the system have to dedicate eight years of life or their entire life to uncovering hidden bias, hidden racism, stereotypes like this injustice. It makes me angry and it made me wonder why are there not more people with majority identities, the ones who are actually participating in these systems, doing the work to expose this.
So that’s why I wanted you to come on. I would love to hear more about your research, have you share that. And to do that I’m going to just share an excerpt from one of the articles that you wrote from inside Indonesia about educating global citizens. And then I’m going to let you take the reins and share more about what you discovered.
But what you say in this article, you said, “Despite international schools ideology of global citizenship, students learn to internalise cultural hierarchies, meaning that students perceptions of popularity are sometimes colored by race. ‘So who are the popular?’ I asked a couple of seniors. ‘Well popularity isn’t such a big deal here but I suppose the white kids that like to sit over there are considered popular.’ Melinda answered as she pointed at the benches near the high school office. ‘The white kids.’ I repeated suspiciously as was sure they were not all Quote white, yeah the white kids. Tell us more the Danau.
Danau: So, during my research, you know, there’s a group of kids that the other kids and the kids in that group themselves would say “white kids,” but actually that white kid group, maybe half of them were what we would traditionally called white, but there was also a Pakistani kid, a kid who was half Japanese half Australian, two African Americans Indians, etc. So, it was quite a colorful group so to speak, but so when the students said white kids what they meant was culture, as in these kids were very westernized. And so, for example, two of the boys when they meet each other, they’d be like, “Hey sunshine.” And then they do all those little flap things, you know, shake hands whatever, so it’s secret codes. And so it’s a culture that they share. Whereas, an Asian kid coming from Korea or Japan had just arrived and they may have lived in other countries, but if they’re not familiar with that culture, they can’t fit in.
And so I found that a lot of the kids, they really wanted to. So there was this mainstream group that was seen as International by both the teachers and the students or the students in the international, so-called International group. And I was always like why does Not the Japanese kids, Korean kids, the Indonesian kids join this group? And the thing is, a lot of them did try to join it, during the interviews they would tell me, “Well, you know, I tried to join and I tried to do that, but why do I have to be one acting like an American, being so expressive of my emotions and fling my arms out here and there.” Which to a kid who was used to that it’s not a problem, but for a kid who’s not used to that it’s a real burden, they struggle with it and it’s really tiring. So she said, “I don’t want to come to school and feel so tired trying to act this way.”
Sundae: Just stop there for a second, that is important to recognize. So this is something that children are navigating. We ask our kids “How was your day? What did you learn?” We don’t find out, “Yeah Mom today, it was exhausting because I was trying to wave my arms around emphatically like the other kids, but it just doesn’t feel like me.” Like these are things our kids don’t share with us, these are things that I’m guessing we are not even conscious that kids are navigating, this presence of a dominant culture here, like you said was westernized, it was labeled as white. And kids who do not fit into that genre, are not from those cultural practices, are put under pressure to be popular.
I mean that’s like a middle school thing, everybody wants to be popular, be part of the group, like I mean I’m 42 and I still want to be liked, let’s be honest, everybody, we don’t get over this. And these are things our kids are navigating successfully with ease at the expense of others or are navigating with difficulty and are being put unconsciously or consciously in an out-group. Yeah, well, I think also the kids.
Danau: Yeah, the kids I was researching were high school kids, so they were a lot more expressive than probably your sixth grader. And some of them, you know, they either struggle, but eventually, the kids are ingenious, right? They find solutions to this and for some of the kids the solution was to hang out with others who spoke their language or could understand their communication style. And this doesn’t mean that they always hang out with a Japanese or the Koreans with Koreans, Japanese with a Japanese. And in that particular school, because it was located in Indonesia, this was particularly clear with the Indonesian kids. So the mainstream students and the teachers would be like all the Indonesian kids, they always self-segregate, they never hang out with anybody else. So, I went to hang out with these Indonesian kids to find out what was going on and when I asked around, and I got to know them, it turned out these so-called quote, unquote Indonesian kids were constituted of two Korean kids, two Colonies kids, a couple of Filipinos and then one who was half British half Indonesian, another was half Thai half Asian, another was half Japanese half Indonesian.
Sundae: I’m going to interrupt you there and pull out for those who are teachers in international schools, to really challenge yourself to think about what categories you use when you see your kids. I am very sure those international school teachers were not conscious that this was a label that didn’t match the diversity of the group and their intentions were not bad. But it has an implication for those kids doesn’t it?
Danau Because I think when those in authority don’t see it and don’t support it and then obviously all the other students don’t really see it or support it either and so it makes it harder for them to come out of that group. I was really surprised and so it’s the same as a white kids group, they’re not all white and then all Asian kids are not all Indonesian. But they did speak, a lot of them spoke some degree of Indonesian, but not all of them.
Sundae: And you know, what’s the interesting thing, you said this, use the words they self-segregated, like as if it was their intention initially to remove themselves from other kids, but that’s not such a fair analysis is it?
Danau: Yeah, no because a lot of those kids they really wanted to join the so-called mainstream group and some of them have claimed that they’ve tried and they couldn’t. And then there were some that say “Well I used to.” You know, some of them are what we call lifers, they stay at the same international school for a long time, and they would point out and say, “I used to be friends with that American kid who’s now in the other group, but like we just don’t hang out anymore.” And so it wasn’t just the culture but it was also the way that kids come and go at the international school in the way that some kids there will be like, “I used to have American, French blah blah blah friends and then they all left in one academic year at the end of one academic year and I have to find new friends and when the newcomers, like the new Americans, French and whatever came I couldn’t talk, like I just couldn’t relate to them. And so I’ve ended up in the Indonesian group.”
And then the other ones who used to be friends with kids who are still at the same school, but in the other group would say they just kind of drifted apart. And part of it is because you know, you end up your life trajectory kind of changes with your passport I suppose like what universities you’d go to. So, the Korean kids a lot of them would end up going to a Korean University because it’s just so expensive to go overseas or you know, that’s where they have a better chance of going to a good University, etc. So, there are a lot of different things going on and also it might be that their parents are friends with each other which means that they have a lot more opportunity to see each other, like to see other Korean kids or other Indonesian kids. And so it’s not just that they want to self-segregate and they’re not international enough.
Sundae: That’s right, because if you if you say they want to self-segregate, what do you make that mean? Like, what do you make that mean about those kids? And that’s what I think is so important about labels.
Can you share a little bit about, from the research I remember in your lightning talk you talked about math and kids with their computers and sitting next to each other, you gave an example in your talk. Can you share more about that dynamic?
Danau: Yeah, so within my research I would hang out with the kids, but also go to classes and there was one particular class, it was an economics class I think. I said, “Can I sit in?” I asked the teacher, the teacher was like “Cool, they’re all Third Culture Kids, but those two Korean kids like they always sit together.” I don’t know, but there was a sense of judgment towards the kids. And anyway, so I sat at the very back of the class which happened to be behind these two Korean kids, and I noticed that over several days, one of them, the girl, would come and the first thing she does in class when she reaches his classes to open her electronic dictionary put it to one side, get another dictionary, a paper dictionary and put it another side and just set things up. And you could tell and I’ve seen her in other classes as well and she’s just constantly nervous in these classes because she can’t speak English very well. And then the other Korean kid who would come and sit next to her, he’s completely fluent in English. He’s been an international school since like first grade and he would sit next to her and I noticed during class that once in a while the girl would lean into the guy and say something and so the guy would whisper something back. And after a while I realized that what they were doing was she would be asking about vocabulary, like there were words that she could not understand that was being spoken in class and he would help her. And afterwards when I interviewed him, I asked even though I kind of knew why they were sitting together, I wanted them to say in their own words. I’d ask him like, “So, why do you always sit with her? And he says, “Well like I would feel like a really bad person if I didn’t sit next to her knowing that she’s struggling and I’m the only one in the class who can help her.” And so he was doing it out of a sense of community, out of trying to help this girl who is struggling in class, but the teachers could not see that.
Sundae: This is why I think we need to have this conversation, this is why I think every international school teacher should have intensive Intercultural communication training to challenge their own interpretations.
And I’m going to go off on a little tangent here and also I want to say I am also guilty of this. I’m going to say that out front, like even though this is what I do and what I teach, I do this too because I have an amygdala, I have a brain. Our brains are programmed for ins and out groups. We’re programmed for comfort. Like we have to work against our biology to be better people. Yes, I’m coming from a holier-than-thou, I’m saying, “I understand how I do this and I want other people to understand how they do it too.” I guess that’s the position I am coming from.
But what I’m hearing here is, from a dynamic there’s a teacher who sees, maybe from an individualistic culture, sees those two kids choosing to select out. And then maybe making it mean like “Oh the Koreans stick together.” Maybe even using some cultural knowledge about Koreans or collectivistic and they like to be among their own people.
What are the assumptions that are being made and the interpretations being made. And who knows, I don’t know this teacher, I don’t know what was in their brain. And what I’m hearing from you is that when you dig a little bit deeper and you check what’s really going on here, when you were observing and checking interpretation. What’s going on is this student is supporting the other, this is a student who needs help from a language perspective and is being supported by someone else. And that’s a totally different energy than their self-segregating. If there are two Korean kids in the back just being Korean that is a totally different energy than, “Wow look at that kid show up for her, look at him sacrifice his own attention or energy and give that to her so she can succeed.
That is a totally different interpretation and as a teacher, I think we would evaluate those kids differently. I think we would integrate them differently into the classroom. I’m going to pull back up from the intercultural side, this is part of the methodology of when you’re working across cultures.
What did you observe, like not what do you think about it, but what did you actually see with your eyeballs? Like you did from a social anthropology perspective. She leaned in, he whispered, you went in and asked the question, “What’s going on?” And his teachers, I think that they could you know, I’m not going to say what I think they could do because I know international school teachers work their tails off from morning until night and they’re doing the best that they can every moment. So, I don’t want that to sound like criticism at all because I work with national school teachers and they are amazing and we all have work to do. Like if we could just step back for a second and go “That’s what I’m noticing, I wonder what else could be going on here?” We would do our part to see it differently.
Tell me what’s going on for you when I when I share that.
Danau: Yeah, well earlier you mentioned about you know, why does it have to be the minority, the people from the minority group that has to do all this? And in a way I guess that’s inevitable, you only know what you see and what you know and what you experience.
But for example, when I went to Families In Global Transition for the first time in 2014, that’s sort of what I felt going in, going “Why don’t they talk about all these other experiences? Why is that always from an English-speaking white perspective?” But then when I went, I heard, I can’t remember who said it, but was like, “We really need these diverse voices, just it hasn’t been our experience and we don’t know how to say this all the time, that it’s my first time hearing it, it’s important, this is really important, but it’s not our experience.”
And so from that I thought, “Oh, okay so there is room for me to speak about this, it’s not like people are rejecting it, it’s just they don’t understand it.” And so I think that sense of just wanting to listen and hear and being open to those other experiences, that’s really important. Yeah, and I think even in the international schools, that would be, just that little thing would make a big difference I think in terms of the dynamic.
Sundae: I love that and it kind of brings tears to my eyes as it really taps into my personal desire to want to listen and to learn. And what I’ve realized in my own reflection is, I can do a better job at inviting those conversations. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re having this conversation right now. So I think one takeaway would be for people who are part of the minority, the majority identity to ask themselves how often they’re in a position of listening or how often they invite those kind of conversations or how often they seek out the voices of others. Because there’s plenty of literature out there talking about it and are we seeking those things out? And what I’m hearing from you is people who have an experience that isn’t reflected in the majority, the voice that’s not being heard, to stand up and to share the voice so that others can benefit from it.
Danau: Yeah, so that’s why I’m quite grateful that you’ve invited myself or Isabelle, etc. And so yeah, thank you so much. And also the other thing is it’s not something we need to feel guilty about, because once we feel guilty that sort of shuts the door because it’s just so uncomfortable. But like I know like we mentioned earlier that it’s something that everybody does, we all do it.
Sundae: Yeah, why would I even laugh at that? Like that is so absurd to even laugh, it’s so absurd I have to laugh.
Danau: Yeah, and so I think often we might experience racism from one group of people, but then you know we do it to other people. And it’s quite amazing to see that people who experience racism don’t notice it when they do it to other people. And so I think it was like, we all are in a learning process.
Sundae: And I’m going to be really transparent to you into thousands of people that are listening, is I feel risk when I as Intercultural specialist when I come out and I share my stories that are in me, of my bias, of my of my other rising, of my failure to create a bridge. There is some risk there, because that’s what I do and I do it because I have a human brain that is created, it is designed for in and out groups. And I share those examples because if this is what I love studying and love thinking about and train on, I’m passionate about and I still mess up. Then what about people who aren’t even thinking about it? What are we doing unintentionally? This is also what you study, it is what you think about, you might catch yourself in situations as well.
That’s why I share that, because it’s like, if people who are passionate about this and know a lot still struggle with always doing it. What about people who aren’t even thinking about it? What are we doing?
I don’t know, I’m just saying. So what do you think? I mean so you talked about don’t feel guilt, I think it’s the same thing like why I wrote the word shame down on a Post-It note next to me when you wrote that, because that’s why I shared that. Sometimes I feel a risk in sharing these stories because I don’t want people to judge me, I don’t want people to put me into a box. But I believe in the bigger picture of ourselves in these dynamics, not always other people but ourselves, that’s more important to me. And it taps into my, I talked about this idea of social justice, like when I’m angry it’s because there’s been an injustice and so when these things happen, you said don’t feel guilty. It taps into anger, because I’m not mad at the individuals at all or not at myself, I’m mad at the historical little power dynamics and identity politics that are going on over centuries that led to this individual interaction. That’s where I’m mad, that’s where the injustices are, these unfair power dynamics they’re playing out on the global field, but are happening on the playground of our international schools.
Danau: So, like during the research I went to another school that was a smaller school. And so the fees were a bit lower. And what that means is that you get a different set of students. Because whether or not you can afford the fees depends on whether or not you come from a developed country. And so then I interviewed a Burmese student there and she was saying, you know at the big school it was like all the Indonesians were complaining about, Japanese complaining that they’re not accepted whatever. And then you go to the smallest school and the Burmese kid is like, “Well like the Indonesian kids really look down on us because like Burma is Myanmar is not as developed as Indonesia now.” And I thought, “Oh wow, we really do this to each other, don’t we?”
Yeah, so there was that, and also I think for myself, I’ve had to, going to Families In Global Transition, I’ve had to check my own heart in terms of being feeling a bit, I found this sort of like a resistance going to FIGT. feeling uncomfortable. and I was talking to Ruth about it and I was like, “Oh, but if it’s just because everybody’s white that would make me quite racist, too.” And so I had to sort through my own issues of feeling angry that I was left out. And if you’re angry towards a group of people that’s also like a real sort of, I don’t know if its reverse racism but it’s a prejudice.
Sundae: I think it’s hard to ignore that with racism, it’s about unfair power dynamics, and we kind of know who has the power historically. So, I don’t know if it’s the same idea. I personally don’t believe in reverse racism because a power dynamic isn’t reversed. Right now, I’m on fire about Catrice Jackson who wrote Antagonists, Advocates and Allies and she’s a she’s a wonderful social justice warrior and she really helps. Her mission right now is to help white women see how they’re creating acts of micro aggression or violence against women of color consciously or unconsciously. And she’s actually asking white women to stand up and say, “Hey do your work.” The people that should be fighting for social justice are the people who are part of the problem. And I love that’s what she’s doing and that’s what inspires me part of why I feel like I want to have these conversations. Because what she says is, if you’re not if physically exhausted every single day from fighting injustice, you’re not doing enough. And it’s like “Oh, okay.”
So that’s part of my journey. That doesn’t mean it has to be other people’s journeys, that’s just what we’re on right now.
So that’s why I want to talk about action, what do you think, and let’s just see what pops up, what can parents do, what can teachers do, what can students do, to participate differently in these systems?
Danau: Yeah, it’s a tough question. I’m an anthropologist, we dissect problems really well but don’t do solutions that well. But what I did see was, well one is as I mentioned before to listen and to sort of want to hear the other perspective. And for example in my book, I was quite critical of one of the staff members, but because I was so critical I showed the manuscript to my book to him before it was published to see if it was okay with it. And he actually read it and came back to me and said, “You know what, you’re quite accurate, I can see it now.” And so even though I was critical, having him respond that way that my respect for him just shot up, that he was able to hear that. So that’s one listening to the other.
The other thing is I found that the students at the school depend, you know, there would for example the Japanese students that would feel so uncomfortable in the English-speaking classes. But once they go into the Japanese class, so in English speaking classes, I would be like like a stone just silent, not say a word. I go to the Japanese class because it’s in their own language, they’re so comfortable. They’re just really cheery, talking a lot, participating a lot, it’s like a different person. So what I felt was that the teachers, the ones who know how to be a cultural brokers, those teachers are really important in school because it makes students feel comfortable.
And I’ll share an interesting one, there was one teacher who was a white American teacher and for some reason all the Asian students loved hanging out in her in her classroom. And I asked the students like, “Why do you like hanging out in her classroom?” And they’re like, “I don’t know, I guess she understands teenagers, like we really like her.” And then I went and interviewed her and what I found out was that she grew up in Hong Kong I think going to a British school or something like that. And so she feels more comfortable hearing Chinese language being spoken and being around Chinese people. But the students didn’t know this she because of what she looked like. And so in a way it was that her TCK experience allowed her to be a cultural broker in that school.
Sundae: And that shows what can administration be doing when they’re hiring? You know, what can they make sure that they’ve got teachers whether they look Canadian and sound Canadian on the outside, what experiences do they have in the background that can help kids feel comfortable, so all identities feel comfortable in that school setting. That’s great.
Danau: And this doesn’t mean you have to go hire somebody because of their race, it’s still about their credentials.
Sundae: Do all of the qualified people that are coming in, are we covering the identities that are present in our school?
Oh my gosh, we could go on and on and on. So, I am looking forward to reading even more of your research. I’ve already started diving in and everything that I’m reading I’m gobbling up.
So thank you so much for the work that you’re doing, the contribution you’re making to understanding and for tearing apart this thing that we want to hold onto about TCK identity. And saying, yes this is a unifying experience and it’s also different. So, I appreciate the work that you’re doing.
Where can people find you if they want to learn more.
Danau: Thank you so much. I’m on Instagram, “Growing Up in Transit” That’s the title of my book, but also the book is available for sale. It’s quite expensive because it’s an academic book meant for libraries, but they’ve got a 25% off going on right Sundae: on Instagram.
Sundae: Okay, so I’ll put those links in the show notes, I will make sure that they have access to where they can get your research so they can find more. And I might even put the article that I mentioned that I should excerpt from here too so they can get a flavor of what you’re doing.
Thank you so much for joining us on Expat Happy Hour. It’s been amazing to have you and I hope that all of the people that are listening have taken away one core thing for yourself, for your role either as a parent an administrator a teacher or just as a human, for looking at our own biases and how we participate in systems that are much bigger than us, but we still are part of.
Danau: Thank you so much Sundae, thank you so much for inviting me, it’s been an honor.
So there you have it, an inside look at the dynamics that are going on in international schools. It is pretty interesting how what Danau Tanu is seeing in her research is what our guest from last week, Isabelle Min shared as her experience when she was a child.
Definitely worth thinking about.
What’s your response? Are you feeling defensive like “Not our school.” Are you feeling curious like “Maybe I should ask different questions.” Or are you feeling open, ready to reflect on your own categories?
Because this is what this interview series has been all about.
Remember we started with Jerry Jones and Cath Brew with, unlikely connections, where it was an invitation to look at the categories that we use when we see or don’t see other people. How it stops us from creating connection or how going through that can help us build connection.
Last week’s episode with Isabelle Min helped us look at gently, what are the unconscious biases that are going on inside of us and how does it stop us from connecting across cultures.
And this episode looks at the hidden racism that might be at play, the dynamics that are going on in geopolitics that sneak through the school gates, playing out in our lives and with our children.
This is an invitation to pause, to notice, because the trickiest thing about unconscious bias is because it’s unconscious. But acknowledging that it exists saying to yourself “Okay, I have bias I am not aware of.” Even though we know from brain research it can see it, we aren’t aware of it. Just acknowledging that we have bias helps create space to acknowledge it.
Because these topics are relevant to our lives, we are participating in systems that advantage some and disadvantage others.
This is worth having a conversation.
So if you are an international school administrator and are listening to this, please hear this as an invitation to explore the dynamics that are going on in your own school, as an invitation to have honest conversations with your teachers about how they are seeing others, as an invitation to look at your curriculum and the dynamics among the students to see what dynamics or at play. The same thing for the teachers and us parents whose children go to schools like this.
And if you are someone who works directly with expats who are living international lives and are part of this international school system, these are things that we can help our clients with, these are things that are relevant in our lives, part of our identity that we are participating in and our advantage from or disadvantaged from. And that is what makes this honor to work with individuals all over the world so interesting, because we have a role to collaborate and help others find meaning and purpose in their lives and break through whatever barriers they’re facing.
So if you haven’t heard the news already, I announced last week that the doors are open to a brand new program called the Expat Coach Coalition, because I firmly believe that together we are stronger. The more that we share our talents with people, the more we serve our community, the more we are committed to change lives for the better and also amplify your own business in the process we’re stronger.
And it’s my invitation if you serve expats, if you’re a coach who’s living abroad, I would love for you to check out the Expat Coach Coalition, because it is part of this opportunity to come together and do better, it is time.
You’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour and this is Sundae Bean.
I’ll leave you with an anonymous quote “Strong today, stronger tomorrow, strongest together.”