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"Great Advantages"

Rachel Miller Schaetti, mother of Transition Dynamics principal Barbara Schaetti, was herself a multi-mover global nomad. She evokes in this ShowCase what so many global nomads know to be the Great Advantages of an internationally-mobile childhood.

Despite the drawbacks of family separation and the very real adjustment on the permanent return to the States, a child growing up abroad has great advantages. He learns, through no conscious act of learning, that thoughts can be transmitted in many languages, that skin color is unimportant, that non-Christians can be deeply and devotedly religious. He takes it for granted that some cities have skyscrapers and others have houseboats, that certain things are sacred or taboo to some people while to others they’re meaningless, that the ordinary word of one area is a swearword in another.

We have lived in Tulsa for 5 years, longer than I have ever lived consecutively in one place before. So I am having my first real chance to watch American children growing up in an American community. I am struck again and again by the fact that so much of the sociology, feeling for history, geography, questions on other religions, etc that our friends’ children try to understand through textbooks, my sisters and I acquired just by living.

—Rachel Miller Schaetti
April 1957
US American global nomad; 33 years old

(final comments sent at end of questionnaire from Jack O. Claypoole, George Williams College)

I take particular delight in this piece of prose: it was written by my mother almost two years before my birth and when she was much younger than I am now. She did not know at the time of her writing that she and her husband, himself a Swiss global nomad, would themselves raise three global nomads in ten countries on five continents.

In this piece of prose, my mother only casually refers to "the drawbacks of family separation," a very common dimension of the experience for global nomads of her generation. Both she and my father were separated from their parents for several years at a stretch. The frequent visits made possible by air travel were unheard of until my own generation, and the constant communication made possible today by electronic mail was still more in the distant future.

Similarly, my mother glosses over "the very real adjustment on the permanent return to the States" or, in my father’s case, to Switzerland. It’s interesting to realize that although I grew up hearing stories of my parent’s adolescent re-entry experiences, I never really took them as preparatory cautions towards my own!

I think it’s particularly apt that my mother barely acknowledges two of the significant difficulties common to the global nomad experience and instead focuses on the benefits. While the difficulties must be identified so that they can be redressed, it’s sometimes all too easy to focus there. The advantages to the global nomad experience are equally real and deserve equal attention.

In fact, it may be worth saying that of all the many hundreds of adult global nomads with whom I’ve spoken over the years, of many different nationalities and host countries and sponsoring organizations, only one global nomad has ever said she wished she had not grown up internationally. All but this one have said that if they had it to do over again, they would choose to live an internationally-mobile life. That’s not to say, I must stress, that they wouldn’t have some things done differently; certainly they would, many things. By far and away, however, each believed that the advantages gained compensate for the challenges. It is these advantages that my mother illustrates here: the global nomad birthright of intercultural sensitivity and a delight in the multiplicity of the human community.

—Barbara Schaetti

We welcome your comments, and we invite you to share your own experiences of international mobility through poetry, stories, or other prose.

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