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"We and They"
Global nomads have as a birthright the opportunity to learn about other cultures, to see their "own"their national culturewith fresh eyes, and to question ethnocentrism and assumptions of difference.
Kipling's poem exemplifies the kind of tolerance for and, indeed, joy in difference that many global nomads develop. At first, and with family indoctrination, "all the people like us are we and everyone else is they." Throughout the international sojourn, differences between the two cultures become abundantly clear. So too does it become clear that host nationals interpret the expatriate's behavior as every bit as "disgusting" as the expatriate interprets theirs: "isn't it scandalous!" Eventually, however, can come intercultural understanding and an ability to look "on we as only a sort of they."
Interestingly, Kipling introduces that last phrase of intercultural tolerance with the words "you may end..." (italics added). With that preface he recognizes that not all global nomads do in fact develop great intercultural sensitivity. In perhaps the same way that not all Koreans like kimchee and that not all Americans are materialistic, not all global nomads do inculcate an ability to withhold judgment and celebrate difference. It is, however, a part of the global nomad birthright, and one that parents and educators in particular can do much to foster.
There is an important caveat to this global nomad birthright. While global nomads may be more generally tolerant and celebratory of difference, they may be more judgmental and less tolerant of their passport country and/or of one or more of their host countries.
Global nomads grow up exposed to an outsider's perspective of their passport countries. A French global nomad raised in French Algeria told me of how she inevitably learned to criticize France, ostensibly her home country, because she saw at first hand the consequences to her Algerian friends of France's colonial policies and practices. As many an adult global nomad will attest, this is a common experience for global nomads from former colonial powers, as well as for those from current economic and political superpowers.
The many difficulties involved with re-entry, the eventual repatriation to one's passport country, may exacerbate a global nomad's tendency to dislike and mistrust his or her passport country peers and government. As a US American global nomad once explained to me, it was very hard for her to take her American peers seriously when, upon learning that she had just returned from Africa, they asked her in which country Africa was situated. Similarly, having Iraqi friends made it difficult for her to tolerate unthinking calls for a renewed bombing of Iraq. It may be particularly challenging for global nomads and their families when such questions and comments come from extended family members. It may be challenging, too, for grandparents to see their grandchildren developing pluralistic perspectives; it's not uncommon for expatriate parents to speak of being confronted by extended family members, accused of not raising appropriately patriotic and enculturated children.
All nation states provide a biased reporting of world events, speak of themselves as the best in the world, suggest that they and their allies are the only really good people and that everyone else is either faceless or an enemy. Global nomads, however, typically know better. They do not so easily accept "the other" as either faceless or as an enemy. They are likely to disbelieve any portrayal of dichotomous truth and look instead for the shades of gray.
All of this said, global nomads may grow up very much enamored of their passport countries, defend them at every chance, long for their return "home." They may take on a deep-seeded dislike of their host country. Much here depends on individual experience as well as on the behaviors of parents and educators. A global nomad's feelings towards the host country will certainly be influenced by the feelings expressed by trusted adults. Indeed, feelings of the passport culture will be similarly influenced.
Throughout his poem, Kipling speaks to the differences that exist between "we" who "live over the way" and "they" who "live over the sea." His conclusion emphasizes the power of the expatriate experience: "if you cross over the sea, instead of over the way," you may end bythink of it!realizing that there are more shades of gray than singular truths. Indeed, let us hope so!
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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