Letters Never Sent Ruth Van Reken
Letters Never Sent Ruth Van Reken – A few weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Families in Global Transition 2016 conference in Amsterdam. This is the third time I have attended this conference and each time I find myself invigorated and grateful for this international community. It is a space where I don’t have to explain myself or my background; I feel welcomed, understood and listened to.
This year we had three keynote speakers, including Ruth Van Reken, founder of the FIGT and supporter of the Third Culture Kid / Cross-Cultural Kid. Ruth is so much more, however, so in her honor I would like to share my interview with her from 2014. That was the first year I attended the FIGT and the first time I met Ruth: her warmth, her humor and her genuine interest in everyone she meets have left a lasting impression. It was a privilege to interview her in 2014 and to hear her talk about her this year.
Letters Never Sent Ruth Van Reken
This interview was first published in Insights and Interviews from the 2014 Families in Global Transition Conference: The Global Family Redefined
Looking Back: An Interview With Ruth Van Reken On Vimeo
Some names immediately come to mind when thinking about the search for the Third Culture Kid (TCK): Norma McCaig, Ruth Hill Useem, David Pollock and, of course, Ruth Van Reken.
It’s hard to find a single word that defines Ruth, that she is a missionary girl, a third culture adult girl, author, teacher, public speaker and TCK advocate, among many other things. She was born in Kano, Nigeria, to an American mother born and raised in Chicago, and an American ATCK father born in Resht, Iran. She spent most of her childhood in Africa, returning to the United States. for high school. As an adult, Ruth went to college, became a nurse, and then met and married her husband, David. Also a missionary boy and TCK in his own right, having lived two years in China as a child, David is also a doctor and as he wanted to work overseas, Ruth continued her expat life with her husband, raising three global nomads on behalf of his in Liberia and the United States.
As a TCK adult, TCK’s daughter, mother and grandmother, Ruth knows the impact of this lifestyle and the importance of understanding it. She is dedicated to helping others understand their journey and spreading the word about this global community. Without Ruth there would be no TCK “bible” (
, were written in very different circumstances, but both helped Ruth (and others) understand their TCK background.
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Although she had led a happy life, as an adult Ruth found herself battling depression several times. She was triggered again when her eldest daughter first flew back to the United States to go to school, and Ruth realized that she could be connected to her own childhood. A year later, in 1986, the entire family returned to the United States, settling in Indianapolis, which was a new adaptation for all of them. It was during these times that Ruth began keeping a diary, which would later be published as
Ultimately, writing about her experiences at 39 helped her process the emotions she had felt growing up as TCK, particularly from leaving home and going to boarding school. Expressing those emotions about her finally allowed her to face and deal with them.
Her story of hers has resonated with many readers and she continues to do so today, having sold over 32,000 copies. But when Ruth first wrote
, she had a hard time getting it printed because the editors didn’t believe there would be enough interest in her story about her.
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“They said […] that not enough people would care because not many had lived through it,” she recalled. “Finally a friend who was a printer said he would print it for me for free and I could pay it back if I sold it.”
From there Ruth made the sale on her own until her collaboration with author and publisher Jo Parfitt, which allowed her book to receive the exposure she deserved. Jo renewed
Adding photos, an epilogue of Ruth, and making it available in print and kindle formats ensuring that Ruth no longer has to sell it herself.
The book initially shunned by publishers would continue to impact people around the world, who realized they were not alone in the way they felt. By sharing her experiences and emotions, Ruth helped others learn from her lessons and ultimately live better in their understanding.
Third Culture Kids. 9781857885255. Heftet
“The letters showed me that there was a pit of pain that I had not been able to possess or express,” she said. “And when we protect ourselves from pain, we can’t even dare to live in the fullness of joy.”
That Ruth and David Pollock first connected. She was preparing a lecture on TCKs and she sent him a letter asking if she was doing anything to help adults grappling with their TCK experiences. That letter led to great friendship and collaboration.
It was a very different process from writing her diary. David had done much of the research, but someone had to write it down and make it available to others. In addition to writing it, there was also a need to clarify the
Of such a lifestyle, what were the challenges that Ruth faced. Trying to explain the impact of growth as TCK also helped her understand herself better.
Pdf) How Does Growing Up As A Third Culture Kid (tck) Impact Life Choices?: Effects On Atcks And Their Educational And Career Experiences
, I started getting new insights into my story, “she recalled.” I could then use my story and hopefully expand to help others have a language for their story as well.
The FIGT had very humble beginnings in the Midwest of the United States. As she tried to adjust to life in the Indiana suburbs after living overseas, Ruth realized that she wasn’t being given enough help to relocated families. While the transfer packages included interesting benefits and practical information, they lacked support in other areas.
“Topics like transition, TCKs or marital issues were not covered,” she said. “It seemed like little awareness or appreciation for the enormity of the emotional / psychological / social problems they or their children have been facing.”
Meanwhile, Norma McCaig had started Global Nomads and David Pollock was talking about TCK to schools and international organizations. The memory of Ruth,
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“It was evident that global family life issues were real in the world, but they seemed invisible where I lived in Indianapolis,” she recalled. Then one day, sitting at her kitchen table with three friends, discussing the book she was writing with David Pollock, they realized it would be great to spread this information to a wider audience.
They found a location, set a date (May 16, 1998) and created a logo, which is still used today. They also found a famous speaker: David Pollock. He at the time was Executive Director of Interaction International (formerly Manhattan Youth Services), which he co-founded in the 1960s. Few locals attended the conference, but many people went to town to hear David speak and “the magic of the FIGT has begun”.
Although that first conference only had two sessions, it was so successful that a second was planned the following year and by 2001 the FIGT had become an official organization. The conference was eventually moved from Indianapolis to Houston, where there was a larger international community thanks to the oil industry, before moving to its current location in Washington, DC.
“Throughout the process, the incredibly dedicated and capable board members […] have continued to lead the way in making the FIGT what it is now,” she said.
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Although David Pollock has passed away, his legacy continues, not only through the knowledge he left behind, but also through his son Michael, who conducted a simultaneous session with Ruth at the 2014 FIGT conference.
Another evolving aspect of the FIGT is the library. At the first conference there was no bookcase, there was not even a table with books. Ruth’s husband sold them straight out of the boxes in the lobby towards the end of the conference.
Today there is an online bookstore and physical bookstore at FIGT conferences filled with a plethora of TCK-related and expat-related books.
Ruth is currently working on new research concerning intercultural children (CCK). She wants to see how some lessons can apply to all children who have experienced a globalized upbringing or some form of displacement from their parents’ home / culture.
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“The details of the stories of a refugee child and an ambassador’s daughter are worlds apart,” she noted. “But both have lost stability and connection with a world around them where they would traditionally have grown up and their identities would be mirrored.”
She hopes that by understanding the TCK experience, it is also possible to help children from other intercultural cultures. She hopes to broaden our views on who constitutes a global nomad and to use our past lessons to their advantage.
“If we have identified the gifts that TCKs often receive from their cross-cultural childhood […] then is it possible that those with other types of cross-cultural backgrounds […] have the same type of gifts?” she questioned.
She is also confident that future generations of TCK / CCK will continue to carry the torch for the global community. “We are now in phase two of the TCK, watching your generation enter