Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

English Required - Other Languages Need Not Apply

Since I have a daughter who recently had to pass the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) in order to apply to North American universities, I found this TED talk particularly poignant.

Patricia Ryan is a Third Culture Adult who has lived and taught English in the Middle East for over 30 years. Her perspective on English requirements for entry into Anglosphere universities might surprise you.  This is someone who loves language - her own and others.  She is 100% correct that we should be paying as much attention to language loss as we do to language acquisition.    

She is also quite funny.  I always enjoy speakers who can gently get their point across with humour and goodwill.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Flophouse Favorite #6 - Cherry Blossom time in Tokyo

Put aside for a moment the headlines, the videos and all the discussions on the Net about the natural disaster in Japan.  Current events are transitory.  What has us all a'flutter today will be a note in a history book tomorrow.  Today I want to think about the Japan I remember.  Some things, like great cities and their citizens, endure.

Japan is the most amazing country I have ever lived in and Tokyo is, in my opinion, one of the world's most beautiful cities.   Founded in 1603, it has been Japan's cultural, business and administrative center for over 400 years.  During that time, the city has experienced a few earthquakes.  On average about 50 a year.  Last time I looked, the city was still standing and I predict that it will still be there long after you and I are dust.



Right now they are getting ready for one of the most beautiful seasons of the year:  the Sakura or Cherry-blossom time.  Not only can you see acres of gorgeous blooming cherry trees, there are also outdoor parties and picnics everywhere (some fairly sedate and some quite wild) which makes it the perfect moment to walk through the city, along the canals, and through the parks.

Tokyo: Exploring the City of the ShogunIf you do go to Tokyo (and I strongly urge you to go at least once in your life) think about a getting a copy of Sumiko Enbutsu's book, Tokyo:  Exploring the City of the Shogun.  She proposes a number of walking tours though different historic parts of the city, all of which are wonderful.  I personally love best the walks through traditional Japanese neighborhoods - the small gardens are heartbreakingly beautiful.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Recent History Revisited


Over a fine lunch served after the elder Frenchling came home from school (yes, they go to school on Saturday here) we had a long and illuminating talk about recent history.  My daughter is preparing for her final exams in June (the "Bac") and today her history teacher used the class time (all 2.5 hours) to have the kids write an essay about Communism from 1947 to 1991.   Listening to my daughter talk about how she answered the question, I became excruciatingly aware of two things:


  • My elder was born in 1993.  To her what she has learned in school on this topic is practically ancient history.  I, on the other hand,  was born in 1965 and I remember (and I was surprised to discover how vivid some of those memories were) many of the events she talked about:  the Vietnam War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Gorbachev and Perestroika, Solidarity and the fall of the Berlin Wall. 
  • Her interpretation of these events is based on information and a perspective that has come from her teachers in the French public school system.  Mine comes from what the American media (radio, television and print) was reporting at the time and what my teachers in the American public school system taught. 
It should not have been a big surprise that there are some significant differences in our perspectives.  Not surprisingly, in the French school system, world history is viewed through the prism of French interests, dreams and fears.  And, I can confirm by my own experience that this is equally true of the American one.  However, this is very hard to comprehend if the only educational system you have ever known is the one you grew up in.

Alas, I have no solution to this and I am not even sure it's a problem.  I just don't see a culturally neutral way to teach history.  For one thing, history is taught in school by fallible human beings who have their own opinions about what is important and what it all means. (My Frenchling reports that her teachers are quite to the Left of the political spectrum.  I remember mine as being fervent Free Market advocates.)  For another, the public schools systems in both countries exist to create citizens - not world citizens but citizens of a specific country with a collective memory that we all agree should be transmitted to each generation.  Finally, to be entirely pragmatic, in the few short years that our children are captives of the school system, there is simply not enough time to teach everything from every perspective.  Choices are made and sometimes what is included is less significant than what isn't.

This bothers me less than you might think.  I would not think of asking the French school system to include an American perspective in their curriculum any more than my husband would ask the American schools to include the French one if we were living in the States.  What I would hope for in either case, above and beyond the facts and the perspective on those facts, is a bit of humility - an admission that this may not be the whole story.  That other people in other places might look at the same facts very differently and come to very different conclusions.  In addition, children should be actively encouraged to seek out these people and places and to take those perspectives seriously.

In my day, we called that "intellectual curiosity."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Migration is Not Gender-Neutral

Over the years it has become blazingly obvious to me that men and women do not have the same migration experience.  They are not treated equally when they choose to leave their home countries and they are not treated the same in their country of destination.  Every more dramatic is that immigration laws and policies are often tailored to the "average" migrant who is presumed to be young and male.  These laws can have horrific impacts on women who get to suffer twice:  they are discriminated against as women and as foreigners.

I have been looking for an article or research on this topic for some time now.   It has not been an easy search.  Governments and international organizations do have basic statistics on male and female migration rates, workforce participation and levels of assimilation but that does not begin to tell the whole story.  Today I discovered this excellent article by Monica Boyd and Elizabeth Grieco:  Women and Migration: Incorporating Gender into International Migration Theory

Country of Origin
The story starts in the country of origin.  The family, the larger society and even the government, have the power to either prevent a woman from migrating or to deny her the resources and support she needs to be able to leave.    If she is married she may need her husband's permission to migrate and take any dependent children with her.

In addition, national policies may favor the migration of young men while putting barriers (sometimes said to be "protective") in the way of young women.

Country of Destination
There are several ways that the national immigration policies of the destination country impact women.

  • An assumption of "dependent" status.  A woman's immigration status is often linked to a relationship she has with a man (father or husband).  It is fascinating to read the "Foreign Brides" arguments on the Internet.  I tried but was unable to find the equivalent passion for or against "Foreign Grooms."  But they do exist.  Out of the relatively few mixed marriages in France (43,400 in 2004) only a slight majority involve Frenchmen marrying foreign women (about 55%).

I can attest to the fact that marriage to a citizen is a double-edged sword.  It does make the immigration process easier but consider this - you have been granted residency on the basis of your marriage, not because of your job skills, educational attainments or other legitimate talents that you have to offer the host country. Given the divorce rates in many countries, that is very shaky ground indeed in the first few years of residency.

  • It follows from this assumption of dependency that women are cast in the "family" category as wives, mothers or daughters.  It may be assumed that women "dependents" will not work or have a desire to work.  Men, on the other hand, are assumed to be independent and seeking employment regardless of whether they are married to a citizen or not.  
I would also argue that above impacts the economic equality of immigrant women within their marriages to citizens or to other legal residents.  In most countries it is a fact that women make less than men.  Many skilled immigrants are under-employed compared to their education level and skill sets during the time that they assimilate and learn the language.  If you combine the two, this means that the difference between the native husband's income and that of the foreign woman struggling (with little or no encouragement) to start or restart a career, can be enormous.  As a result of this inequality, she may have less power when it comes to deciding how the children are brought up, what language(s) to use in the home, and what traditions will be followed.

Integration
All of the above has a strong impact on assimilation.  A woman migrant's status when she enters the country can determine later access to resources in the target country:  language-classes, job training, even government programs. Without these things (which are often more readily available to unemployed or working male migrants) it is more difficult for a woman migrant to find work, to integrate and to later to seek citizenship in her own right.  From my own experience, I can attest to the fact that participating in the work force in my host country forced me to learn the language and customs very quickly.  At this time I am not a legal citizen but I nevertheless have come to feel (mainly through my work, but also through friends and family) that I am a member of this society even if I cannot vote.

And that, I would argue, is the "gold standard" for determining a successful level of integration - a sense of belonging.  Citizenship is just a legal category - being a productive member of society and feeling "at home" goes much deeper.  It is both a tragedy and a travesty that migrant women have so many barriers to overcome before they can achieve both.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Deep Survival Chapter IX - Bending the map

Following the publishing of the first chapter summary of Deep Survival a few days ago, here is another one. It's all about what "being lost" actually means to your brain, and what should your correct answer to that be.

"Bending the Map" by Victoria Férauge

The word "lost" provokes powerful feelings in each and every one of us. We associate it with a sense of disorientation, of loneliness, and of despair. Since childhood we have all heard cautionary tales of what can happen to those who stray into unknown territory and can no longer make their way out.

In "Bending the Map" Laurence Gonzales examines the physical and psychological effects of losing one's way. Anyone can get lost, he says, but most of us are not prepared for the experience since we have spent a goodly portion of our lives doing everything we can to avoid it.

It starts in the depths of our brain, in the hippocampus, with cells that enable us to create a mental image of where we are and where we are going. "Place cells" fire faster in a place we are familiar with. When we go somewhere new and strange, these cells go to work to try and recreate our "mental map".


In another completely separate part of the brain, is the amygdala which governs our response to all that information. When you are in an unknown and threatening place, it is the amygdala that screams "Danger!" Between the work of "remapping" and the screaming emotions bubbling up from our heads, our ability to formulate a rational strategy is compromised. We are then driven by emotions we cannot even identify (except that they are so urgent and painful) that push us to "walk another 10 miles over that ridge and surely the lake will be there..."

We then enter an altered state of consciousness where we refuse to update our mental map and admit that we are in a world of trouble. This is why so few people turn back and retrace their steps or stay put and start doing what is necessary to survive. Instead, driven by emotion, we panic, become delusional, and finally exhaust ourselves in a frenzy of futile activity. If we are so unlucky as to find ourselves in the wilderness where the human being is a rare and unwelcome tourist, the end point of this downward spiral can be death.



"Being lost," says Gonzales, "is not a location; it is a transformation. It is a failure of the mind." A man sets off for a hike in the woods and physically and psychologically deteriorates to a shadow of his former self after a mere three days lost in the woods. In the end, when the choice is between resignation at one's impending doom or action, what is the correct action?

Gonzales believes that in order to save ourselves, we must pragmatically accept that where we are is most definitely not where we intended to be when we set out on our journey.  The first step in surviving is also the "First Rule of Life:  Be here now." This is when we start over and map the real world that we find ourselves in.

In the end if we do most of it right, we will probably find our own salvation. As Gonzales says, "To survive, you must find yourself. Then it won't matter where you are." And you will never
ever truly be lost again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Superman's Immigration Status?

This is simply too good not to share with you.

Comic books seem to have a universal appeal and some of the characters (like Superman or Batman) are known the world over.  There is just something about the imaginary world of the superhero, antihero and international supervillain that keeps us and our children haunting the local FNAC over the weekend.

Just for fun, two U.S. attorney's have created a blog called Law and the Multiverse to consider legal questions around superhero and supervillain activities.

For example, have you ever wondered, "What is Superman's immigration status?" Is he an asylum seeker, an illegal immigrant or an extra-terrestrial adoptee?

Or, what about superheroes and international law? How would a superhero go after a super-villain led international crime organization without getting the United Nations upset?

The blog is delightful.  Enjoy.

Insaisissable …

More poetry from our guest poet, Corinne Texier.

Insaisissable …

Douce et tendre à l’aurore de ma vie, 
Délicieuse et délicat à l’enfance de ma vie, 
Exaltée et Cruelle à leur entrée dans ma vie, 
Tristesse et peur, ils ont fait de ma vie. 

Mais qu’ont-ils fait de cette fleur ? 
Qui part sa beauté d’âme en pleur, 
Cherche à réconcilier son esprit et son cœur, 
Au détour du chemin retrouver son honneur. 

Les couloirs du destin sont insondables, 
Son cœur était devenu impénétrable, 
Par cette envie de vivre, insatiable, 
Les épines en font une fleur insaisissable. 

La vie est à cueillir comme cette rose, 
Des épines et une fleur à peine éclose, 
Chagrin et allégresse, la rend moins morose, 
Délice et volupté de l’âme pour qui l’ose. 

Bruissement et chuchotement pour appeler la vie, 
Soleil et rosée au fond de son cœur, 
Ont su éloigner les nuages de la peur, 
Pour qu’elle puisse renaître à la vie. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Twitches and Winks: Nonverbal Cross-Cultural Communication

Two boys fairly swiftly contract the eyelids of their right eyes. In the first boy this is only an involuntary twitch; but the other is winking conspiratorially to an accomplice. At the lowest or the thinnest level of description the two contractions of the eyelids may be exactly alike...
Yet there remains the immense but unphotographable difference between a twitch and a wink. For to wink is to try to signal to someone in particular, without the cognisance of others, a definite message according to an already understood code.  
The code that Gilbert Ryle is referring to in the quotation above is culture. Just as we learn to communicate verbally, we also learn the meaning of countless strange gestures that have significance to the people of our shared culture. And to be recognized as a competent member of a community, we must master the correct interpretation and usage of those signs within that cultural context.  Not knowing how to interpret them means that we will have difficulty communicating and understanding effectively even if we speak the target language fluently.

For someone crossing over into an unknown culture, this is yet another area to learn on top of an already daunting list of culture specific subjects (language, manners, proper behaviour).  It may even be harder to learn than language.  Language schools are everywhere;  finding a serious course on "Advanced Non-verbal Communication the French Way" might be a bit difficult.  In the end most of us just muddle through, making mistakes and learning through feedback (mostly negative) from natives.

Fortunately, there is some very interesting research to read on this and other cross-cultural adaptation issues.  Andrew Molinsky is a Professor  at the Brandeis University International School of Business.  In addition to teaching a class about cross-cultural management, he does research in the area of what he calls cross-cultural code-switching: "the act of purposefully modifying one’s behavior, in a specific interaction in a foreign setting, to accommodate different cultural norms for appropriate behavior."  There are two articles by him (or co-authored by him) available on-line which I highly recommend:

CROSS-CULTURAL CODE-SWITCHING:  the psychological challenges of adapting behavior in foreign cultural interactions (2007)
CRACKING THE NONVERBAL CODE: Intercultural Competence and Gesture Recognition Across Cultures (2005)

Both articles are written by an academic for academics but the contents and ideas merit wider diffusion and would be very useful for anyone struggling to navigate in a cross-cultural world.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Deep Survival Chapter VI - The Sand Pile Effect

Given recent events, it seems appropriate to begin our Deep Survival summary series with Chapter 6.

 "The Sand Pile Effect" by Jean-Jacques Auffret

The term "normal accident" was coined to express the concept that some systems will sometimes present configurations so complex and tightly-coupled that the patterns of interactions between their components will inevitably lead to catastrophic results.

The bad news, according to the pioneer of this theory, Charles Perrow (1984), is that attempts to fix those systems will only make things worse, because they will result in more complexity, hence more accident sources. Accidents are in fact an intrinsic part of those systems, and not some kind of flaw that can be eliminated from them. In these systems, accidents are "normal," Perrow argues and not at all surprising.

Airliners are a very good example of such systems. Their stability, expected by all passengers, is only an illusion. How many tourists or business travelers know that the toilet system or the coffee machines have been known to blow some of them away in flight? Chaos theory shines a light onto such situations by explaining, on scientific grounds, how apparently trivial systems based on a handful of components and a couple of interactions, can actually produce very complex and, above all, unpredictable behavior.

Another example, from the natural world, is a mountain like Mount Hood, Oregon, which is considered an "easy" climb. However, this peak claims at least one life each year, and sometimes many more, as in the accident that occurred on May 30, 2002, where 9 men did slip across the slope, roped together, and finished their course into a crevasse where three of them died and another five were severely injured. Considered as a system, the mountain is bound to produce "normal accidents", as its track record shows. Problem is that this system being chaotic, it is impossible to predict when, how and to whom these normal accidents will happen.

The behavior of a sand pile helps to understand how such systems behave. Imagine sand pouring from an hourglass on a flat surface. That is a system with only one component - the sand grain, and one interaction force - gravity. One can think that such a simple system would display a deterministic behavior. It actually does, at macro level: past a certain critical height, the sand pile becomes self-organizing and maintains a certain triangle profile. But it does so, at micro level, by means of sand avalanches which occur in a totally unpredictable way. At some point, the new sand grains falling on the top of the pile from the hourglass will trigger small or great avalanches on the flanks of the sand pile. But nothing in the laws of gravity nor the shape or mass of the new grain can help predict if an avalanche will occur, and its magnitude in case it does.

The tiny points of contact between the climbers and the mountain act like the similar points of contact between the sand grains in the pile. At some point, those contact points, which in most normal case ensure the stability of the system, can actually play against it. It is also worth noting that the rope tying climbers together, which is originally designed as a safety device under normal conditions, can in no time turn into a deadly mechanism as it transmits the huge quantity of kinetic energy accumulated by the first falling men to the rest of the group.

In fact, the sand pile shows that such systems operate under permanent accident conditions. Sand grains roll onto each others. Crampons slip by a few inches. But once in a (generally long) while, one of those permanent accidents gets bigger, because of a domino effect with other system components around. As an engineer commenting on the space shuttle Columbia accident puts it: "Shit happens, and if we just want to restrict ourselves to things where shit can't happen, we are not going to do anything very interesting."

Flophouse Review - Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales


Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

There are books so rich and so deep that one reading is simply not enough.  Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales is that kind of book. 

 It is the equivalent of an intellectual feast that keeps  you coming back to the table for one more delicious morsel to savor.  A few months back Jean-Jacques Auffret and I started a collaborative project to summarize the book, chapter by chapter.  This new Flophouse series is the fruit of this collective labour.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We are not the center of the universe

With all of us glued to our television/radio/computers, may I suggest that we all take a step back and consider things on a larger scale.  We are a species capable of comprehending the vastness of the universe and our place in it.   I truly believe that is something rare and beautiful and worth preserving and fighting for.  Eva Hoffman wrote:
Multivalence is no more than a condition of contemporary awareness, and no more than the contemporary world demands. The weight of the world used to be vertical: it used to come from the past, or from the hierarchy of heaven and earth and hell; now it's horizontal, made up of the endless multiplicity of events going on at once and pressing at each moment on our minds and our living rooms. Dislocation is the norm rather than the aberration in our time, but even in the unlikely event that we spend an entire lifetime in one place, the fabulous diverseness with which we live reminds us constantly that we are no longer the norm or the center, that there is no one geographic center pulling the world together and glowing with the allure of the real thing...
It is my dream that my children or grand children will "slip the surly bonds of Earth" and "dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings."  And that will require another culture altogether different from anything we have ever known.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Seismic Event bis

The human race plays checkers.  Nature plays chess.

Checkmate.

Here are some extraordinary before and after pictures from the ABC news site:

Northern Japan:  Before and After.

Seismic Event

As I'm sure all of you know, a massive earthquake hit Japan late last week.  I've received several emails from readers of this blog asking for news of our friends in Japan.  I am very relieved to say that everyone we know is well and safe if not exactly comfortable (no electricity, no running water and so on).  Andrew Edsall is fine - he sent a note via his blackberry right after the quake saying that he was OK and attempting to walk home since there were no trains.  Good Day Books lost some books off the shelves but Steve had the good sense not to be under them when they started coming down.  A note from some of my consultant friends said they ended up spending the night at work.  My elder Frenchling reported the same for the kids at the Lycee Franco-Japonais - they spent the night bedding down in the gymnasium.  Over the weekend everyone made it home safe and sound.

Update  23/3/2011:  For those of you who are looking for a way to show solidarity with Japan in this time of crisis, the American Red Cross and the British Red Cross sites have links where you can donate to support on-going disaster relief efforts there.

An earthquake is a most singular and terrifying experience.  From the moment you realize that the skyscraper is swaying ever so gently or that the ceiling of your house is starting to move (no, that is not the bus going past...) all you can do is find the safest place to ride it out and hope it isn't too intense or too long.  I've been asked by my friends from seismically inactive parts of the world why anyone in their right mind would live in an earthquake prone area.   The simplest answer, of course, is that some of us were born in such places - I'm from the Pacific Northwest of the US which has several faults and active volcanoes.  Another, perhaps more complex answer, is that we live in such places because we wish to, and the joy that we get from experiencing a place as beautiful and as culturally rich as Japan more than outweighs any fear of nature's wrath.

All human beings are players in the cosmic crap shoot of the universe.  No place on this planet is perfectly safe.  Nature will from time to time have her due.  But we are survivors.  We learn, we adapt and we go on.

From the Tao Te Ching (quoted in Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales)

One who is good at preserving life
does not avoid tigers and rhinoceroses
when he walks in the hills;
nor does he put on armor and take up weapons
when he enters battle.
The rhinoceros has no place to jab its horn,
The tiger has no place to fasten its claws,
Weapons have no place to admit their blades.
Now,
What is the reason for this?
Because on him there are no mortal spots.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Third Culture Kids

Not too long after the last American presidential race, I was sitting in the living room with the Frenchlings talking about Obama and what his election meant for the United States, when my younger Frenchling turned to me and said, "Do you know why I like Obama?  I like him because he's just like us."  When I asked her what she meant, she replied, "He has an American Mom and he lived in Asia, just like we did."

At that moment I realized that they were right and that Obama (like the Frenchlings) is a Third Culture Kid.

Third Culture Kid is a term that was coined by David Pollock in the late 1990's to describe "children who spend a significant period of their developmental years outside their parents' passport culture(s)."  This was certainly true of Obama but, interestingly enough, was also true of his opponent, John McCain, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone.

According to Pollack what makes Third Culture Kids different?
  • They were raised in a deeply cross-cultural world -  these kids live in a space where they are constantly and deeply interacting with radically different cultures.  As they move between their passport culture(s) and whatever culture they happen to be living in at the time, they learn deep in their bones that "normal" is relative and depends entirely on where you are.
  • They were raised in a highly mobile world -  These kids move a lot or are around people who move around a lot.  I was in my early 20's when I took my first long airplane ride to Europe - my Frenchlings have been flying since they were 6 months old.  At their high school in Japan they had French friends who born in Asia or other places and had lived in many different countries but had never lived in France.
For me, the biggest difference is my sense that these kids tend to be most comfortable around people like them (see Obama comment above).  That is the Third Culture Pollock was trying to describe - it's a shared experience that makes it easier for them to connect with other "Global Kids."  It also makes for some very frustrating interactions with kids or adults who don't have that experience. Starting a conversation with another child or a teacher who has always lived in France or the U.S. by saying "When we lived in Seattle or Tokyo or Paris..." is often perceived as arrogance or showing off.  Sometimes the Third Culture kids are treated like exotic beasts or they are pitied,"My, how terrible it must be to have been uprooted so much..." 

In all my efforts to create bi-cultural kids and to balance French and US cultures in my home it never occurred to me that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  It's not just about two cultures, it's about many, and that our entire experience in North America, Europe and Asia represents something larger and radically different from my original, rather limited vision of a bi-cultural/bi-lingual family.

Because I'm not a Third Culture Kid myself.  I'm a Third Culture Adult. :-)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Playing for Change - Don't Beat Me Around the Bush

From the Playing for Change archives, an original song by Clarence Bekker.  This song could be an anthem for migrants everywhere.

Monday, March 7, 2011

European Blue Card

The EU works in ways that are mysterious even to Europeans.


I took a quick poll of my friends (Brits, French...) and not one of them knew that the EU has an initiative to create the equivalent of a United States Green Card for Europe.

The implementation is still being worked out with the member countries but the idea is to make the EU labour market more attractive to the highly-skilled professional worker and to address serious labour shortages in some sectors.  According to one article I read Germany alone has 36,000 Engineering and IT positions that they cannot fill domestically or with workers from other EU states (only 1% of EU workers accept positions in another member state).

This proposal would cover "any third country national applying to be admitted in an EU
Member States to fill a job requiring high professional qualifications (engineers, IT professionals, medical professionals, etc.), including university students having completed their undergraduate studies."

You can read more about the original proposal in the European Commission's Citizen's Summary here.

All this began back in 2007.  The EU is not only mysterious but it is slow.  They were hoping to start implementing it in 2011.  Three countries have already opted out:  the UK, Ireland and Denmark.  The other States have, in theory, agreed (more or less) with a lot of grumbling and much criticism.  How and when it will be implemented on the national level is still a big question.  To my knowledge, no EU state is currently accepting Blue Card applications.  The initiative appears to be stalled.

If you'd like to follow the debate and the progress (or lack thereof), there is an excellent site called European Blue Card.

Immigration is a very touchy subject in Europe and it does not surprise me that so few EU citizens seem to be aware of what the EU is up to.  Given some of the recent anti-immigration rhetoric in the UK and Germany I can certainly understand why local politicians would want to keep it quiet.  However, the EU does have a real problem - it is not competitive in the global labour market.  Franco Frattini, the former EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, said that less than 5% of immigrants to the EU are highly-skilled professionals compared to 55% of immigrants to the U.S.  In the race for talent, the EU loses.  The European Blue Card is, in my view, a great idea and I hope this year that the EU member states wake up, smell the coffee and vote to implement.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pour eux …

More poetry from our guest poet, Corinne Texier.

Pour eux …

Ils furent de ma vie le plus beau cadeau,
Ils sont pour moi ce qu’il y a de plus beau,
Je ne me lasse jamais de les voir bouger,
De les entendre rire, et de les tenir enlacer,
Je les regarde grandir, profitant de chaque instant,
Sachant qu’un jour, pour moi il sera temps,
De les regarder à leur tour s’envoler,
Vers ces bras qui leur sont destinés.

Je me souviens de ces jours, sublime et lointain,
Ou le jour, les a vus naître, par un beau matin,
De la souffrance et de la joie, leur cops sublime,
Leurs premiers cris furent, le plus beau des hymnes,
Ils sont devenus la symphonie de mon cœur,
Chaque instant que je vis prés d’eux est le bonheur.

Je bénis la vie de me les avoir laissés,
La mort ayant étendu ces ailes sur mon aîné,
Me levant chaque nuit pour oublier cette souffrance,
Dispensant baisé, tendresse, présence caressante,
Veillant, protectrice sur leurs doux mondes,
Prenant leurs mains pour cette douce ronde,
Mon amour est pour eux, ce qu’il y a de plus fort,
Offrande de mes bras pour ce simple réconfort.

Corinne Texier

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Experiences in Crossing Cultures - Andrew Edsall (USA/Japan)

There are countless reasons that people leave their country of origin for new horizons, but every decision, every journey is unique.  In this new Flophouse series some of the people I have had the pure pleasure of encountering over the years have kindly agreed to share their experiences and explain, in their own words, how they ended up so far from home, learning a new language and building a new life on a distant shore.


The Expat Experience by Andrew Edsall

Passion is like fire. Fires can die out when they have too little fuel as well as when they have too much. It is only when they are provided appropriate amounts of fuel and ventilation can they burn forever and be controlled. Sometimes the fire can grow out of control; other times it can be blown away into tiny embers. Regardless of how a fire ends, it all starts with a spark. The spark that lit my fascination with Japan occurred in the late 1980s. I was still a young child, but I always watched the evening news with my parents during dinner. To the best of my memory, this was a very interesting time to be watching Japan. While the 1964 Tokyo Olympics are considered to the symbol of Japan’s recovery, the late 1980s were the peak of Japan’s economic might.
Nearly a decade later, my mother noticed an advertisement in the local paper offering a scholarship to Tokyo to ten high-school students from New York, Jakarta, Paris, Sao Paulo, and New South Wales - which had sister-state agreements. After applying and going through several interviews, I was one of 40 students sent to Tokyo for a year. During my stay, I lived with several host families and attended a prestigious boys high school, where I played kendo. While there were many challenges, I learned a lot about Japan and myself. Japan is often portrayed in the West as a country where people don't show their emotions or feelings. During my year, I discovered that this was not the case at all; different cultures display their feelings differently. There are some feelings in Japanese that are extremely difficult to express in English. I also developed a hearty appreciation of kanji characters.
Before my initial experience, I was under the impression that all Japanese were genius-level smart. However, the longer I spend here the more I realize that this is not the case at all. I went intent on learning as much about Japan's superior math and science education system... of course, these intentions lasted until I cracked open my math book and realized that not only did I not understand the language, but I didn't understand the math problems either. I spent the rest of my year studying Japanese intensively - both at home and school - and I was a member of the Kendo (Japanese fencing) team. At the end of the year, I had developed a number of friendships (even today) and acquired a command of about 500 kanji characters (roughly a quarter of what is needed to be considered fluent). Even after I returned home to the US, I knew that I wanted to return to Japan.
While culture shock is often discussed, the impact of reverse culture shock is often greater. After spending a year in an exciting city of millions, returning to a small town of 12,000 was a very strange experience. During my last year of high school, I had a number of decisions to make regarding my future; however, I resolved to return to Japan as soon as possible. Rather than studying business and hoping for a transfer to Japan, which could take years or never happen at all, I decided that the best way to return to Japan was to do it on my own. After spending my first year at a community college, I transferred to SUNY Albany, which had a Japanese Studies program. While there I minored in Business and continued to interact with the Japanese community on campus.
As graduation neared, my goal still seemed to be far away.  I was unable to return as a study-abroad or under the JET program. To make matters worse, the US economy was in a rut from the collapse of the Internet bubble and 9-11. I found a company that hired recent graduates and sponsored their visas to teach English in Japan and passed the interview process in New York City. I returned to Tokyo in August 2002 and have been living here ever since.
I spent the first three  years teaching English and studied Japanese in my spare time. While teaching was fun at times, I could not see myself doing it forever. When I passed Level 2 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) I thought that I would try my hand at Translation. I was fortunate that I studied Japanese history intensively, because it led to my next position as a translator at a museum. I realized that while I had some amazing experiences, I did not like the solitary nature of translation and I wanted to be able to express my own opinions, not merely be a mouthpiece for another. Finally, to be a proficient translator (or anything for that matter), one really needs to specialize in a certain field (law, engineering, medicine, etc.). Without this specialization, you’re on the lowest end of the food chain and pay scale, to gain that knowledge requires experience. And to gain that experience I decided that I would earn my MBA and enter the world of business.
The MBA program was challenging and I learned a lot about the subjects, others, and myself. The professors and classmates were great and it has really expanded my network and knowledge. I recommend to always keep learning and doing new things - both in a personal and professional environment. While an MBA might be the right solution, I would say that one should consider their personal and professional goals; goal setting is a critical skill necessary for the long-haul.
During the MBA program, I was introduced to an alumnus who was looking for someone to run an internal IT project. I made the move and continued to learn and grow. The project required me to wear many hats, so there was always more to plan and execute. Unfortunately, the company’s bottom line was greatly impacted by the economy and I found myself unemployed in early 2009. After graduation, I spent the summer applying to companies and attending career fairs; I have a lot to say about my experiences then, but that could easily be the subject of a book - not just a short blog post. Eventually, I tapped into the MBA network and joined a Tokyo-based headhunting firm and specialize in the Technology sector. This has been quite rewarding because there is variety, the opportunity to meet many people and impact lives, and while I am not an engineer, I love technology and am responsible to find the engineers, sales executives, and back office members to make technology firms successful.
When the intense flame of passion has died down to coals, one needs to add fuel to relight the flame. Having achieved my original goal of returning to Japan, discovering the next goal and acting has not always been easy, but nothing worth doing is easy. While my life in Japan has not always turned out as I had originally envisioned, it has been interesting.