I’m a cross-cultural kid.


On Tuesday I had the opportunity to interview the charming, effervescent Ruth van Reken on how schools and teachers can support cross-cultural kids on their path to defining their personal identity.

Who is Ruth van Reken? 

She is a second generation adult third culture kid (TCK) and mother of three adult TCKs. She speaks nationally and internationally on issues related to global family living. She is co-founder of Families in Global Transition and co-author of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. She will also be a panelist at the My Culture, Your Culture conference taking place at Lycée Français de New York on Saturday, April 12, 2014.


Growing up in New York City as the daughter of two immigrants, I didn’t think that my bicultural experience was all that unique. Since all of my friends were the children of immigrants or were immigrants themselves, we empathized and commiserated on our growing pains. We swapped stories during lunch (which was a multicultural buffet in tupperware) of family members “back home” and anecdotes about how our parents struggled to understand what we were going through as American adolescents. We wholeheartedly embraced each other’s cultural differences and leaned on each other for support.

I discovered that I was a “third culture kid/cross-cultural kid” when I encountered Van Reken’s book Third Culture Kids, and learned that there was a whole world of terms to describe the experiences that I’ve lived through and gifts that I have taken for granted.

Van Reken lays out exactly who falls into the  “cross-cultural kid” category in her blog that you can find here. Below is a screenshot of the salient points. Do any of these descriptions apply to you?

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You can find a link to my interview with her here on the Lycée Français de New York Life Blog.



Alternate Paths


True Confession: Sometimes I wish I had become an artist or a scientist.

Technically, I practice the art form of teaching, and I engineer units of study. Hah! In all honesty, doodling is great fun and I have a wonderful relationship with crayons and coloring books, but I have yet to pick up a paint brush and turn a blank canvas into something awe inspiring. I cannot say that I invested much time over the years in developing any artistic talents beyond dancing, however, I admire those who can bring what they envision to life with their own hands. Perhaps it’s time for me to sign up for one of those BYOB painting classes.

On the science front, I played with K’Nex as a kid. However, thirty minutes into my building project, my mind would wander off to the plot of my Babysitter’s Club book of the week, or I’d be randomly inspired to write a short story. Next, I’d be reprimanded for having abandoned K’Nex pieces all over the den. Oh to be 7 years old again!


My mother worked as a chemical technician at an energy company for thirty years. Her brain was hard wired for math and science and she shared that enthusiasm with me through cooking and baking at home. When it came to school work, she was my number one cheerleader through my struggles with math, and each year when the elementary school-wide science fair came around. There wasn’t a poster board that was too expensive nor trip to Home Depot that could inconvenience her. She encouraged me to attend every science based overnight trip offered in junior high: Caumset State Park, Taconic State Park, and Space Camp. In high school, I spent three years in the science research program working on how how the various components of light (color, intensity, duration, and direction) affect the growth and the development of plant seedlings. Once upon a time I thought that I would become a botanist… until I started learning French during senior year. The rest is history.

I declared my double major in French and Spanish language and literature during the spring semester of my freshman year. I hope they’ve stopped telling undeclared freshmen that they have time to figure it all out. The reality of the college undergrad hustle is that you have to decide what you’re going to study EARLY. All of that “take time to find yourself” rhetoric is a ploy to keep unsuspecting students wasting time and money by taking classes that may not fulfill the prerequisites for the major that they ultimately choose. Being undeclared and floating through the liberal arts college at a university is potentially a career death sentence. What if your grades aren’t good enough to switch over to the nursing, business, or engineering school? You’ll be stuck. What if you can’t get into the prerequisite courses that you need in the semester that they’re offered? You’ll be adding another semester of debt to that Sallie Mae bill. Even if I had been curious about science and engineering courses while in college, I couldn’t gamble with my GPA nor the meticulously scheduled coursework for my degree in order to satiate that interest. Now, 6 years after having finished my undergraduate studies and 6 weeks away from completing my second master’s degree, I wonder if there could have been a way for me to study both romance languages and science. Did I really have to forgo science for the humanities? My 17 year old self couldn’t conceive of a way to feasibly connect the two disciplines and neither did the “academic advisor” at my university.

I’m a definitely a fan of the whole women and girls in STEM movement, but this wave came along well after I started surfing on a totally different beach. Would I buy Goldie Blox or Roominate for my daughter in the future? Sure. I hope to encourage her to explore a variety of interests before she locks into one field. I am thankful for my mother’s influence although I seriously followed in my language professor father’s footsteps. I’m sure there’s a multilingual, art and theatre loving, scientist-engineer out there changing the game. It’s just not me.

This post was inspired by Bran Ferren’s TED talk. Ferren is the former President of Research and Development of Walt Disney Imagineering. He is the son of two abstract expressionist artists, who taught him that art is about communicating ideas, not just decoration. His grandfather was a cabinet-making factory owner, who often took him on field trips to buy electronics to take a apart and reassemble. At the age of 9, he visited the Pantheon during a trip to Rome that blew his mind; it was the perfect blend of art and visionary engineering.  “The ingredients for the next Pantheons are all around us, waiting for visionary people with multidisciplinary skills to make them,” says Ferren. “These people don’t spontaneously pop into existence, they need to be nurtured. Just as my grandpa did, and just as my parents did, we need to encourage [kids] to find their own path, even if it is very different from our own.”


I love the path I’m on… but I just wonder sometimes. I’m sure you all do too.

My Culture, Your Culture


Last April I attended a conference at the Lycée Français de New York called Living with Two Languages: The Advantages of Being Bilingual. It was my first visit to the beautiful LFNY campus on 75th and York on the Upper East Side. The conference was organized in three panels and proved to be as educational and informational as it seemed online.


The conference kicked off with, “Language, Emotions, and the Bilingual Brain”. As a person who studies and speaks English, French, and Spanish, I fascinated by the cognitive neuroscientist Ellen Bialystok‘s explanation of the connections between bilingualism, emotional intelligence and brain development. Her talk served as a mini-lesson on the executive control system in the brain. If you’ve got a solid 15 minutes, I suggest reading the paper she wrote in 2011 for the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology here.

The second panel, “Regards Croisés: Crossing Perspectives on Bilingualism”, featured Nancy Rhodes from the Center for Applied Linguistics. I was familiar with her research on the state of foreign language immersion programs across the United States. Panelists included teachers from Lycée Français de New York and discussed the best practices for the successful organization and implementation of bilingual language education programs. As a language teacher and graduate student at Middlebury College, I know the challenges of creating, participating in, and sustaining a language immersion environment in a classroom.

In the third panel, “Manger Bilingue (Eating Bilingually):  Cultural Differences on Children’s Nutrition in France and North America”, featured Karen Le Billon, author of the best-selling book, French Kids Eat Everything, explained that French children are more likely to try everything because of how their diets are structured at school and nurtured at home. The other panelists offered insights into how being open to a wide range of foods at an early age helps children to keep an open perspective throughout their lives.

I am happy to report that LFNY, the French Embassy, the French Heritage Language Program, l’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie have collaborated again. They are hosting a special conference on how to educate diverse populations of students for success in the future called My Culture, Your Culture: International Education for Success in the 21st Century and it will take place on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at the Lycée Français de New York.


Although the conference is sponsored by some very francocentric organizations, the topic of discussion is international education. In a series of three panels, just like last year, leading experts from around the world, including Ruth E. Van Reken, co-author with David C. Pollock of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, as well as professors Patrick Savidan, founder of the French NGO Inequalities Watch (Observatoire des Inegalités), and Gérard Bouchard, historian, sociologist and lecturer at the Univeristé du Québec, will explore cultural identity and diversity, and educating students for success in the 21st century. A special screening of the documentary, I Learn America, by Gitte Peng and Jean-Michel Dissard will take after the conference, followed by a Q&A with Ms. Peng and students in the film.

It’s a FREE, full day event. You are in no way required to stay from 8:45am – 5:45pm, but I surely will! Click here to register for the event. Hope to see you there!

Forward march!


Dear WordPress,

How I missed thee!

As you may or may not have noticed, I suspended my blog posts during the month of February. The creation of well-researched content for publication takes more time than I have actually had at my disposal in the past 6 weeks. However, I have composed a number of drafts that I am excited to expand upon this month and share with the world.

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I have been professionally soul-searching for the past six months and have had the privilege of working and speaking with education professionals from all areas of the field. From teachers and administrators of public, private, and charter schools to university administrators and ed-tech startup pioneers, you name it, I’ve shared my story, interests, and goals with them. Thankfully, there are a few exciting prospects on the horizon for me that I hope will encourage my professional growth and help my career take shape. Here’s to the future!

Chinese made easy!


My father has been independently studying Mandarin Chinese for about 3 years. His morning routine begins at the kitchen table where he completes a lesson in his text/workbook, listens to the accompanying dialogues, and repeats after the tape for practice. After almost a year of independent study, he attended a formal 100 level class at a local university and excelled. Beyond the kitchen and the traditional classroom, he takes advantage of any opportunity to engage in unscripted conversation with any willing native speaker of Chinese that will entertain his efforts. Although he is already fluent in five languages other than English, his respect for learning and diligent study habits are an inspiration. He’s my language hero.

While scrolling through the Hechinger Report, I discovered Chineasy, “a visual-based learning system that teaches Chinese characters, simple stories & phrases”, created by ShaoLan Hsueh of Taiwan, with the intent to help her UK born children learn how to read and write in Chinese. The characters below are what ShaoLan has deemed the basic building blocks of the Chineasy method. Various combinations of these base characters will help one build complex compounds, words and phrases.


In her 6 minute TED Talk, she explains the logic behind the illustrations used for each character and demonstrates how many more characters can be built with an understanding of the initial 8 given.

The Chineasy book is set for release in the U.S. in March of this year. I’ll definitely be picking one up for my dad.

Are you doing what you love?


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“Do what you love. Love what you do… Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise…

According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace…

‘Do what you love’ disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is a privilege, a sign of socioeconomic class.”

Last week, Miya Tokumitsu presented a compelling series of arguments at Slate (via Jacobin Magazine) against the adage “Do what you love. Love what you do”. Having seen and heard the saying innumerous times before, I found myself mulling over the potential repercussions of peddling the aphorism to my students.

As an educator, my concern is the next generation. How can we empower our students with a solid academic foundation, strong work ethic, and an understanding of the working world that will prepare them to make good decisions about how to navigate higher education and choosing a career? Most students will need to work to earn money to payback their loans, not work to pay back Cupid for making them fall in love with basket weaving in Guam. If we are to prepare the adults of the future to competently determine which path will most viably lead them to independent lives, passion cannot be the deciding factor.

Study what you love! Do what you love!

Right? Err.. sure!.. But maybe not as soon as you think.

“Miss, you must love languages, school and kids, because you’re here with us.”

“That’s a rather astute conclusion, Tyquan, but if you must know, outside of this lovely classroom, I love to spend time with my friends and family, paint my nails, play dress up, go to the beach, bake/eat cupcakes, and dance. How can I earn a living by doing all of those things? Perhaps I could open up a nail salon near the beach that sells cupcakes and offers complimentary wardrobe styling based on customer nail polish selection trends. I’d host dance parties once a month to showcase new polish colors and debut new cupcake/frosting flavors. Hmm.. I might be on to something. Starting a small business doesn’t just happen overnight. To be honest, I would most likely have to keep working here while drafting a business plan and saving up money to establish my dream salon.”

There are many more factors at stake than “love” when determining how to productively spend your days after graduation. It is possible to do what you love and love what you do, but can you earn a decent living wage in the process? What am I to do if what I love to do/study is also the object of affection of 50% of my graduating class? Will I love competing for low paying jobs in an over saturated field? I am certain that I won’t love being unemployed. What happens if what I love isn’t as valuable to society as it was when I first discovered that it existed as a career path? What if what I love to do isn’t going to yield enough money to have the lifestyle that I want? Should I be happy with doing great work and living from paycheck to paycheck to afford the shack in which I reside?

How can we reconcile the desire to find impassioned work versus the need to be financially stable enough to love our lives when we’re off the clock? Perhaps the mantra should be “Do what you’re good at doing. Love the paycheck and benefits”. Hopefully, one will find satisfaction and financial reward in a consistent job well done. Then, you can allocate funds from your salary to the pursuit of your passions after hours. Love and passion alone cannot pay bills nor can they write checks. On the other hand, I know many a social worker turned Avon lady, and teacher turned Etsy power seller after closing time.

What say you, dear Reader? Do you love what you do? Why? If you don’t do what you love, why not? Do you imagine that you will ever?

“Miss, are you scared?”


“Miss, are you scared?”

In a traumatic and potentially life-changing situation, how does one respond to such a question while brimming with anxiety and uncertainty?

 “We’ll be fine. The shades are down, the door is locked, the lights are off, and we are in the corner of the room furthest from the windows and door. Now, we have to do our part and stay silent. Just take deep breaths and pray.”


At 8:00 A.M. on January 15, 2013, Elmont Memorial High School went on lockdown. Instead of starting the morning with a French warm up activity, I was trying not to think of our school turning into another Sandy Hook Elementary School. I prayed, and then sent text messages to my immediate family to inform them of situation. The seven students in my classroom did the same.

For about an hour and twenty minutes we sat in the corner of my classroom and exchanged whispers about whatever information we received via text or social media about what was happening in our school building. Suddenly, an announcement was made stating that the situation was under control, and that the police would be sweeping through the school to search all lockers, students, and classrooms. After a collective sigh of relief, our conversations turned from the last will and testament of my precious sophomores to what we could do to pass the time until they made their way to room 214.


I was not at all prepared to have a SWAT team greet us at the door. My students were asked to exit the classroom and line up against the lockers. I supervised them getting patted down by officers armed with rifles. They were petrified. It took about twelve minutes for the law enforcement officials to search my students and my classroom. However, it took certain members of our student body about fifteen minutes to create rather unsavory memes about the situation and post them on Instagram. My colleagues and I were appalled by the fact that there were some teens that couldn’t resist making light of the situation.

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The lockdown was lifted a bit before 1:00 P.M. Members of the school’s pupil personnel department and support staff circulated the building to distribute milk and chicken nuggets for lunch, and to relieve teachers from their classrooms so that they could use the restrooms or make phone calls. Classes resumed at 2:08 P.M. for ninth period, however many students had been picked up by their parents already. Those that remained shared details of what really happened:

Reports of a suspicious person with a lime green gun on school grounds prompted a lockdown at Elmont Memorial High School, but police say the gun was a toy. Authorities said they received a 911 call around 7:30 a.m. about a teen with a back pack possibly carrying a lime green gun… After an extensive search of the entire building, police found a toy lime green and yellow lever action Nerf gun in a student locker that fit the description of the original call. There were no arrests. The lockdown was lifted and all students and staff members are safe and secure.


Someone saw a student entering the building with a lime green gun. Thankfully that gun was only a toy. There have been many schools in the United States that were not so lucky. Just yesterday, a seventh grade boy from New Mexico shot and critically injured two of his classmates at Berrendo Middle School. Shootings in public spaces in our country have become more and more common place… but why? What will it take to prove that it needs to be far more difficult for those who are unfit to bear arms be restricted from doing so? How many students need to be injured for gun control to become a priority?

The Ephebic Oath


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I am a proud graduate of Townsend Harris High School; a public magnet high school for the humanities founded on the traditions of scholarship and community service. The Ephebic Oath, recited annually by the student body during the school’s Founders’ Day celebration in October, is a reflection of the school’s dedication to its mission to create engaged, productive members of society. The last line, “I shall not leave my city any less but rather greater than I found it”, still resonates with me.

Harrisites are expected to complete a minimum of forty hours of community service per year. For the majority of my high school years, I tutored children in after-school program in a public elementary school. My weekends were spent volunteering with The All Stars Talent Show Network. I know that the time I spent directly benefited the people with whom I worked, introduced me to different people and places in NYC, and added variety to my weekly routine of books and ballet.

As an undergrad, my Saturday mornings were dedicated to visits to the Binghamton Boys and Girls Club. Upon returning to NYC in 2008, I was a regular volunteer mentor at FreeArts Days with FreeArts NYC. However, I’m ready for something new. Is anyone out there involved in a mentoring program in NYC? Comment below!

Bilingual Schools in NYC


The French are coming! The French are coming! Actually… they’re already here.

The number of French-English bilingual programs in New York City’s public schools has been growing steadily since the opening of the first programs in 2007. The French-English Dual Language Program brings first-rate bilingual education to 1,000 students in public schools across New York City. The programs were established for English speakers, bilingual students, and French native speakers who are currently English Language Learners.


If you are interested in donating funds to support the opening of French-English dual language programs in NYC public schools, click here. Ready to challenge your listening skills in French? Click here to watch a news report about the emergence of bilingual schools in NYC.

Flashback Friday


diagrammed sentence

I remember the first time that I thought my brain was going to ooze out of my ears. It happened fairly early in my academic career, during the spring semester of my freshman year at Townsend Harris High School. On the day in question, my linguistics teacher, the notorious Mr. Michael Carbone, introduced the concept of diagramming sentences to a room full of fourteen year old, native English speakers. We thought we knew English, but we actually had no idea. Although Mr. Carbone had already begun to unveil the intricate, technical details of English grammar, our jaws dropped, ours minds were blown and our hands couldn’t write down notes fast enough during the lessons of that unit. There was only ONE question on our minds: “Who came up with parsing sentences?!”. This lovely article from Slate recounts the history of diagramming sentences. I’m grateful for that jarring educational experience in high school. It made learning Latin sophomore and junior years much easier and diagramming sentences in Spanish during my senior year of college a breeze.

What have you studied that you never thought you’d master, but finally did?