Global diversity and all of its surrounding divisions, classifications, misconceptions, struggles, ideas and linking factors has never been more complicated to define. However, Ruth Van Reken, co-founder of Families in Global Transition (FIGT) and co-author of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, has paved the way to solving a bit more of the bigger puzzle.
“I can bring the ideas, but I’m not organized enough to make things happen,” Van Reken exclaims. “But I can visuals things, and can help another person accomplish it, which is really fun to watch happen.”
Van Reken is referring to her organization FIGT and the accomplishments she, and others, have pursued in the 20 years the organization has been active. This year, FIGT will be celebrating its 20th anniversary with an international conference being held in The Hague, The Netherlands.
“The conferences over the years have been far past my expectations,” says Van Reken. “We initially were just trying to get this topic out there, because most of the trainings at the time revolving around culturally mobileTM populations were just not helpful. But then, people from all over understood what I was trying to make known. I realized my skill set wasn’t practical, but I had the ideas and interest groups were really what kept the ball rolling.”
The theme for the 2018 conference will be “diverse voices celebrating the past, present, and future of globally mobile lives”.
“When the organization first started, it was really about networking and helping globally mobile families,” Van Reken says, “but now we have a place that encourages academic researchers to share their work. Now, people in the new generation are really working to spread the word.”
The submissions for speakers at the 2018 conference had an extremely successful turnout with 140 submissions.
FIGT has endured many hardships as an organization, and even had a period of time where it seemed as though all volunteers were close to falling through, according to Van Reken.
“The only way it survived was passion,” she remarks. “The new generation of volunteers came when I thought the whole organization was going to die. The new leaders were willing to step into leadership and try new things. It took on a whole scope, and was made international.”
FIGT took a big step in the year of 2016 by holding the annual conference outside of the United States, relocating to The Netherlands. According to Van Reken, the conferences were lacking in local attendance in the states, but were filled with attendees from all over the world. So, why not just make the conference international? After that, the conference “took on a whole new life”, Van Reken believes.
“It seemed as though there was a wave of interest among the youth because people are more aware and looking at bigger issues,” Van Reken explains. “I believe that if somebody can contribute their little piece to something, and you do what you can do one step at a time, you never know where you’ll go.”
Van Reken emphasizes the importance of starting with likeness instead of differences in terms of uniting globally mobile populations around the world. She explains in her book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds that if we join our conversation about identity of cross-cultural populations, we can really begin to make a difference.
“We need to start with likeness of what it’s like to be human, instead of [starting] with differences,” Van Reken says. “Then, from there we can use uniqueness among us to accomplish other things. We are really just on the cusp of this discussion, and if we join together in our conversation about cross cultural identity, we can look at where to go up from there.”