Finding Home, Third Culture Kids in the World. E-book Announcement!

Back in 2012-13 I hosted a guest post series on Djibouti Jones called Painting Pictures, about raising, being, and loving Third Culture Kids.

Now, six years later, it is time to revisit the essays, the authors, and the ideas. I compiled the posts, combined them with interviews and updates from the authors, and included a few suggestions for how to take the essays and make them personal for your own family and experience.

The final product is a book called Finding Home: Third Culture Kids in the World and it will be available on May 22!

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Here’s a preview. Special thanks to Cecily Paterson, for creating the lovely cover. And special thanks to all the essay contributors! You’ll hear more about them in the coming weeks.

Pirates! Poverty! War! FGM! On Manipulating Headlines to Capture a Reader

How the heck do writers get people to care about other parts of the world?

Editors often tell me (in my many rejection letters) that North Americans don’t care about the Horn of Africa.

Unless I can come up with a salacious or titillating angle (both intriguing words), why would a reader in, say, Minnesota, care about Djiboutian girls making bead jewelry? Maybe they like working their hands to create beautiful things. Maybe they are serving their families by earning extra income, maybe they are developing math, business, negotiation, marketing, and general work ethic skills, maybe they are forming a beautiful community.


Who cares?

Clearly, I do. And clearly, I hope you do. But writing about community, creativity, and beauty isn’t click-bait the way other things are.

(By the way, you can see the handiwork of these young women on Facebook and Instagram and you can even purchase it as of April 2 here)

Stories of hope and joy out of a far away region and culture, struggle to capture the attention of a general reader.

This is why Syrians are crying out for people to care but few respond. It is why many have not even heard of the war in Yemen, what has recently been called the worst humanitarian crisis in 50 years, even with Syria in the picture.

How do writers up the readership on stories from this part of the world which I find inherently fascinating and which I love, but about which few outsiders care?

Here’s what I came up with (while on a run with a friend who also cares about this part of the world):

It has to be about FGM. Female Genital Mutilation. Or pirates, poverty, war.

So here are some possible headlines, to get clicks, readers, and attention. Whether or not they actually represent reality is highly debatable.

For a story about Dreamer and Co, the bead business:

Girls Saved from Pirate Marriages Turn Trash to Treasure

(granted, they were never at risk of getting married to pirates, but I suppose its possible, in the sense of all things are possible)

For a story about the most amazing place I visited in Hargeisa, Somaliland during Marathon week, a place that almost made me cry:

They Don’t Have Clitorises but They Have a Library!

(because who wants to read about a library in Somalia, even if it is the most inspiring place in the entire city)

For a story about the incredible strides Somali women are making in medicine:

Raped in the Middle of the Day, Now a Medical Student

(as if sexual assault has anything to do with her capability as a student or doctor)

For a story about the running club in Djibouti, Girls Run 2:

With No Bras, Underwear, Socks, or Shoes, Girls Still Run

(as if the most important thing about them is what they lack, rather than what they have to offer)

Of course FGM, piracy, poverty, rape, war…all these things are significant issues for the region, for the world. I’m not saying they don’t matter or shouldn’t be written about. I write about them, I talk about them with friends. And there very well could be a place in an article about the first class of medical students to graduate to write about assault and trauma. But using those kinds of troubling details as the main point or a kind of requirement for getting through the editorial doors, skews stories and perpetuates the ‘exotic’ otherness of people, rather than our shared humanity.

We are all broken, broken in unique ways. We can also all celebrate unique stories of healing and beauty, while lamenting the brokenness, without dehumanizing each other.

Maybe it is wishful thinking, to imagine people care about those far away and outside our own borders. There is both too much brokenness and too much beauty to expect anyone to hold it all. I can’t summon the emotional energy to care about all the joys and problems of the world. But at the same time, there are billions of us. Surely there is room for all the stories, surely we can diversify a little bit more, stretch our minds past presidents, past preconceived ideas, past our comfort zones.

Surely we can tell all the stories, in all their dark and beautiful complexity, without insisting on twisting them.

(and no, I will not be using any of those headlines. Preempting the fail of sarcasm online here)


New Expats, Old Expats, Hold On to What You Believe

Quick link: Don’t Forget the Things You Know Are True

In case you missed it, A Life Overseas published my post this week about some of the things we know are true that are deeply challenged in the first year abroad. And in every year after that.

All the training, preparing, packing, and planning has left you utterly exhausted, unprepared for reality, insufficiently packed, and carrying plans that will be chucked out the window upon arrival. Those who sent you and those you received you have done their best, but they haven’t been perfect or complete, and I want to remind you of some important things.

There are some things you know to be true. These things will be challenged to their very deepest core in your first few months abroad. You’ll forget them. You’ll call people liars (even if just in your head) when they remind you of them. You’ll wonder how you ever could have been foolish enough to believe them. That’s part of the process. That does not change the fact that these things are things you know. They are true. They have not changed, even while life is only wild, chaotic, and stressful.

Read the rest of Don’t Forget the Things You Know Are True here.

Dengue Fever and Boarding School

Quick link: Split Me Open

This week The Other Journal published an essay about parenting in hard places. My struggle to mother one child in my living room with dengue fever and one child at boarding school, about to go on her first ‘real’ date, pales when I watch mothers raising children in refugee camps. How do any of us make it through whole? Maybe we don’t. Maybe our hearts are split open all over the place.

10 Reasons Expats Should Start a Blog, Even in 2018

Blogging is so, like, 2010, isn’t it? Everyone is podcasting now, or vlogging, or has a YouTube channel. Right? Has blogging turned into MySpace? Who even remembers MySpace?

Blogging has changed, I’ll admit that. There are far fewer comments on blogs these days. Blogs are far less likely to get anyone a book deal or catch a literary agent’s eye.

But, there are a lot of good reasons to have a blog that have nothing to do with a writing career, and the comments that used to be on blogs have simply moved to places like the blogger’s Facebook page, or Facebook Group or Twitter live chat the blogger opened. Community engagement and finding that ‘me too!’ person from across the globe can still happen through blogs.

But what are some other, valuable, reasons to start a blog today, in 2018? (Here’s 11 things I learned, from way back in 2013, about blogging that might help you get started)

Keep a Record. We all want to journal, right? We wish we had the discipline and the time and the creativity and that our hand-writing muscles hadn’t atrophied after all these years away from pen and paper. But who among us really, truly, honestly keeps a regular journal? I don’t. Except, I do. Its more polished and far less vulnerable than a Dear Diary would be, but I have a pretty good record of the last eleven years, including photos.

Keep family and friends back ‘home’ informed. You can’t email everyone, you can’t Facebook everyone. But you can post a story or a photo and pass it along.

Have a landing place. You don’t know what the future holds. Maybe a book or music or painting…why not carve out a little place for yourself right now on the internet and see where it goes?

It will be good for you. You’ll learn some HTML, you’ll grow in courage every time you hit publish, you’ll work on ‘finding your voice’ or your art or your dreams. It can be a creative outlet that isn’t language learning or changing diapers or whatever your daily mundane is right now. You can grow in discipline and play with a new creative outlet.

Motivation to learn. You want to learn about local marriage customs but have lacked motivation? Want to try a new skill but can’t find the up-and-go energy? Maybe the idea of putting something on a blog can get you out the door or help you ask a friend new questions.

Earn money. It is still possible to earn money blogging. This is also super hard. I’ve been blogging for eleven years and still don’t make enough from my website to even pay for the website. I use Amazon’s affiliate program (which, by the way, it would be awesome if you clicked through when you’re doing your shopping, at no added cost to you, a few pennies kick back to Djibouti Jones, help keep the site alive!). I sell ebooks (slowly: Djiboutilicious Cookbook and Welcome to Djibouti). I host Google adsense. I’ve recently signed up for more affiliate programs. In total, I earn enough to buy myself a cup of coffee some months. So yeah, not a great income generator. BUT…that can really depend on your niche. Blog about tech, about cooking, about something people actually spend money on, and it is still possible. Blog like it’s a hobby, not so much. Blog like it’s a full time job, you could earn something.

Build a community. Albeit, online, but some of my online friends have become in real life friends, or at least on real phone calls friends. They are people I love, people I pour my heart out to, people I never would have met if I hadn’t started blogging and for whom I am eternally thankful.

Provide a service. You have a unique skill set or knowledge base that you could give to the world. Travel tips, cooking where there is no refrigeration tips, raising children in a multilingual environment tips…your information can be incredibly useful to someone out there.

People do still read. Yup. A-mazing. But true. They still read. I still read.

It is easier to skim a blog post than a vlog or a podcast. Yes, people still read, but we also skim. A lot. Sometimes I just want a recipe I can follow and listening to one isn’t helpful. Or I want some tips on transitioning Third Culture Kids to university or I need to figure out how to fix my TomTom watch. Vlogs and podcasts can be a waste of time when I want something specific. Blogs are better for this.

No, it is not too late to start a blog in 2018. Yes, you should start one if you’ve been considering it.

But how?

I’ll tell ya next week. For now, consider checking out Master Class where Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography and Wolfgang Puck Teaches Cooking.

James Patterson Teaches You To Writer A Bestseller. Learn More.


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