Today, it is a privilege to introduce my special guest, Hannele Secchia, to you. Born in Ethiopia to German and Finnish parents, she lived there for most of her developmental years. Hannele repatriated twice to England at ages six and eleven and spent her high school years at boarding school in Kenya. At eighteen, she moved to England to study and whilst there, met her Italian/South African husband. They lived in England until 2009 before moving back to Ethiopia where they are now raising four of their own Third Culture Kids (TCKs). I met Hannele, an HR manager currently based in Addis Ababa, at the 2017 Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Conference in The Hague. As a first time attendee, here she shares her reflections about the conference and being part of a very unique sector of our global community.
“When my colleague, Steph, asked me last year, to join her at the 2017 FIGT Conference, I had no idea what to expect. I just knew it fitted well with what I was hoping to do in the future – expatriate care in Ethiopia. I bit the bullet, registered, booked the flights and the hotel, even though at that point Steph wasn’t sure if she would make it. I could do this even on my own, right? I was relieved when Steph was able to come after all – at least we’d get to spend time together, if nothing else.
A week before the conference, I considered cancelling as I had just been in Germany, away from the family two weeks previous and I was still recovering from the dizziness and nausea that accompanied a bout of flu. The thought of four more flights was not in the slightest appealing! Thankfully, I felt much better by the weekend before the conference.
As the Monday rolled around, the first selfie arrived on the conference Facebook page, accompanied by words of excitement and joy. As the selfies and expectation continued to build over the next couple of days, I commented to my husband on what a strange conference this must be… Never before had I seen people post selfies of themselves travelling to conferences with such a sense of palpable anticipation! I joined the selfie crew and posted a picture of Steph and me, the intrepid travellers, pulling our suitcases through the mud…
At first glance, the conference would have seemed like any other to the random passerby – registration desk, bookstore, plenary hall, breakout rooms and a room serving delicious food and drinks throughout the day to keep us going. Had that random passerby stopped to linger for a moment, however, they would have noticed how quick attendees were to introduce each other and how little reticence there was to take the plunge, introduce yourself and quickly find common ground to talk about. They would have observed the lack of niceties and pleasantries and the abundance of deep conversation as if attendees had known each other for more than just a minute. The exchange of business cards was a rapid affair and having returned from the conference, I have realised that the business cards I hold in my hand feel more like mementos from a special trip that link me to precious memories.
Another thing I quickly observed was that there was a core of people who were clearly the cogs of the organisation, making it happen. There were those with administrative gifts, those who held the the keys to history, those whose enthusiasm bubbled over the edges, those with the gift of putting thoughts onto paper, those with the gift of addressing large audiences and those with the critical thinking and analytical skills to gain an overview of this world of global transition. The attendees were as varied as the cogs, from writers to bloggers, to school administrators, to teachers, to researchers, to psychotherapists, to cultural experts, to trainers, to those just trying to find their niche in the world…
The depth of knowledge, experience, wisdom and understanding in this group of seemingly disparate people from across the globe was astounding and as the conference got underway, it was glaringly obvious that a common theme binds us all together and is stronger than any language or nationality. It is the theme of identity, of belonging. The conference provided a safe space for us all to be ourselves, to drop the masks so many of us wear from day to day, to explore who we are at the deepest level and to bring something to the table. It was clear that everyone had something to offer because we all have varied experiences, and stories to tell.
I was impressed with the level of professionalism of those in the room and of the conference itself. No expense had been spared to ensure that everything ran smoothly, that everyone was informed, that everyone was fed and watered, and this freed us up to concentrate on the real purpose of the conference – that of connecting; not only connecting with others, but with our inner selves to explore the recesses of our being and continue the work of understanding how a global lifestyle affects the individual.
The sessions were lovely and varied, with keynote speakers, interview panels, the fast-paced and impressive Ignite presentations, researchers presenting their findings and many break-out sessions to choose from, whether you were looking for information on TCKs, on schooling, on marriage in our context, on parenting, on psychotherapy and the list goes on. The Kitchen Table Conversations were a great idea, but with each table so well attended it was, at times, difficult to have meaningful discussion in the 30 minute window allocated.
For me personally, there was one particular “aha” moment, which explained a deep discomfort I had felt for a long time. There was also a chance to put things I had felt into words for the first time, as well as research to back up ‘gut feelings’ I had but couldn’t prove.
I have come away with the sense of having been on a deep spiritual journey and with that, the not-so-pleasant bump back to real life. Last night as I processed once again with my husband, the tears rolled down my face as I faced the enormity of the grief of all the lost things, but at least I now know more than ever that I am not alone on this journey. Although each of our stories is unique, there are others that have trod this path ahead of me and others who are walking alongside me, even if they are a continent away; people I can reach out to when I have a question, when I need to work through something, when I just need a virtual hand to hold.
I am filled with encouragement and hope at the thought of a community of people who will be at the forefront, leading the world into the increasingly global future. We can demonstrate to the world that it is possible to live in peace with one another, to celebrate each other’s differences, to work through the challenges of mobile people and come out stronger at the other end.”
You can see that Hannele’s journey from Ethiopia to The Hague has had a significant impact on her – one that will have a ripple effect on those with whom she lives, works and beyond.
Families in Global Transition is a welcoming forum for globally mobile individuals, families, and those working with them. They promote cross-sector connections for sharing research and developing best practices that support the growth, success and well-being of people crossing cultures around the world. FIGT Conference and registration information