A storyteller for young global nomads
Thursday, March 13, 2008

Storyteller Marc Levitt runs writing and storytelling workshops earlier this week with 'third culture kids' and their parents at the Istanbul International Community School and at the Hilton. He helps young global nomads gain a vocabulary to talk about what it is like identifying with multiple cultures

ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

His job is to recite stories to kids around the world so they can tell him their own. But performer and storyteller Marc Levitt's audience is different: Most of the children he encounters have gone through so many countries, time zones, cultures, cuisines and languages they aren't sure what or who they are.

In a world where job opportunities across the world uproot families, more and more children end up spending a sizeable part of their lives away from the country written on their passport. These children are called third culture kids ? often pegged as TCKs or 3CKs or Global Nomads ? because they deal with a culture of their own; one foot in the country of origin and one in the host country or countries where they live.

Prior to World War II the majority of TCKs came mostly from missionary families. Now TCKs are mostly children of business, government and military families. Ruth Hill Useem was the first to study TCKs in the 1960s.

Sociologist David Pollock, a prominent name in the study of this social subgroup, describes a TCK as a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK builds relationships with several cultures, while not having full ownership of any.

Levitt, however, said that in his mind the third culture phenomenon is something broader than those definitions. He expands it to adults and other groups as well.

"I see it as something larger… For me it is the hybridization of culture and trying to figure out who you are and how you fit in," said Levitt. "So I've included immigrants, mixed marriages and bi-racial parents and I look at what's it is like to grow up with seemingly conflicting heritages." His own parents emigrated from Russia, and the storyteller said he has always been interested in immigration issues and how people move from one place to another. In the United States a little Buddha sits on his mother's microwave; a gift from bagel shop down the road, owned by a chemist from Thailand. Levitt said he is a big proponent of diversity in all its forms.

Through storytelling and writing workshops, Levitt helps children by giving them the vocabulary to talk about their own diversity. He sees it as "the liquidity of identity; dealing with multiple identities in the self. We are all many facets of ourselves," he said, and "third culture kids are a physical manifestation of what we all carry around inside."

In his writing workshops for kids he encourages them to talk and write about the subtleties of what they know; what it is like, say, leaving, coming and transitioning. "What do you call yourself? What is the one sacred thing you always take with you? What is it like to say goodbye or come back to your home culture?" he asks.

Levitt encourages parents to talk with TCKs about what it is like for them to adapt to another culture, "so kids can feel that they have permission to talk about it," he said. "Kids don't have the language to talk about it," but once others share, they start opening up, he explained. Through the workshops parents and children explore the acquisition of language and culture and how "they change their body language and clothes to fit in," or how they acquire a new language and culture. These things are part of an active adaptation process, he said.

As a result of their unique lives TCKs "have a flexibility and openness that's larger than kids living in that society," said Levitt. "They can talk to adults and are more comfortable with and understand differences."

The storyteller has created a Web site devoted to all who "are struggling with, happy about, bemused and confused about the issue of 'identity' in a world where national, ethnic, racial boundaries are becoming more and more porous and open to question," at www.thirdculturestories.com.

"These kids have unique experiences and need to be validated and to write about them," he said.

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