Thursday, March 15, 2012
My first day at the 13th Annual IMI Conference
I wasn't sure exactly what to expect when it came to this conference. I applied for the Education & Development Fund scholarship as a result of a suggestion from my professor, Aleksandra Nesic, who is also in attendance at IMI as a presenter. I talked to my uncle and grandparents about having a place to stay in the chance that I earned the coveted award, and I checked my airline miles to see if I had enough points to cover the cost of the flight.
Thankfully, I was chosen, and all of the other elements fell into place.
I am not from DC, but I have family here and I come to visit at least once a year. I love this city, and earning a free ticket to this convention on top of having everything else taken care of was a huge blessing. Considering how much good fortune I had already received, I was pleasantly surprised at how much more grateful I felt at the end of the first day than when it began.
The first seminar I attended discussed a topic that I feel is especially relevant to me as well as to many of my family members and students that I work with at Florida State University's Global Engagement Center. It was entitled "Who am I- Really?: Re-defining Identity in a Culturally Complex World" and discussed the concept of CCKs or Cross Cultural Kids.
We discussed what defines identity and how it is formed. How can one be expected to fit their cultural identity into a box when it is becoming more and more common for someone to be born to parents of differing nationalities, raised in another culture, and then consistently exposed to additional cultures as a result of life events including but not limited to international adoption, being the child of an immigrant, product of a mixed race relationship, etc? As a CCK myself, I encounter this daily. I do not look like either of my parents. My dad is African American. My mother is European American, more specifically she is of French and German lineage. Both have a little bit of American Indian in them. My mom is very fair skinned with pin straight hair. My father has a very dark complexion with coarse hair. My skin tans easily. I have really curly, dark brown hair with lighter highlights. I have been asked if I am Brazilian, Hispanic, Ethiopian, and if I take the time to straighten my hair, I can even get Asian Indian. My parents are divorced, and that apparently is a common scenario for growing up cross-culturally. Where does that leave me? How do I define my identity? How does anyone?
The presenter for this seminar, Ruth E. Van Reken, suggests focusing on our similarities BEFORE our differences. She also made a valid argument that more research needs to be done so that we can better understand the formulation of identity. She mentioned that many people, when they admit that they don't know who they are, are often directed to a psychologist for an evaluation. While this is somewhat humorous to me out of context, I can certainly see the seriousness of this situation in context.
Knowing who we are is the basis for our life. We have to be able to understand and characterize where we are coming from so that we have a clear understanding of where we are headed. Being able to define who we are is critical to our sense of well being and the foundation of both individual and social success. Often times, knowing who we are, who we REALLY are, is the foundation of our life's purpose and can determine what we spend our lives pursuing.
I'm very thankful that I chose this seminar. Though I came away with more questions than answers, my questions are more specific and I have a clearer idea of what I'm looking for.
Part of my assignment for these blog posts is to write about the low points of the day as well as my highs. My only complaint that I have about this conference today, is that there are too many topics to be able to narrow each seminar session down to one. At any given time, there are three or four seminars taking place at once, and each one is on a topic that I have read about or feel very interested in. Between the four sessions I attended, I took a grand total of 13 pages of notes. Tomorrow, I will be bringing my laptop so I can save some trees!