Exploring the Global Nomad Experience

London Skyline From the South Bank Credit: Valeria Carranante

London Skyline From the South Bank Credit: Valeria Carranante

The international and multi-cultural upbringing of global nomads has helped create a worldwide community that is uniquely placed within the global arena.

In 1984 Norma McCaig, a third culture kid herself, “coined the term global nomad” notes Barbara Schaetti in her January 18, 2006 article “Global Nomad, Third Culture Kid, Adult Third Culture Kid, Third Culture Adult: What Do They All Mean?” This term refers to that internationally mobile group of people – regardless of age or nationality – that, due to their parents’ occupations, have spent a significant portion of their developmental years residing somewhere other than their country of origin. Until fairly recently it was common to refer to people experiencing such a life as third culture kids, or TCKs, but the phrase global nomads has emerged as an acceptable means to more accurately describe this transient community.

Living in a State of Constant Transition

The global nomad experience is extremely dynamic and, by definition, these people experience life in constant transition. There is a sense of living life in an “in-between” state characterized by ambiguity, unpredictability and lack of constants. In their October 2006 article “The Global Nomad Experience: Living in Liminality” Schaetti and Ramsey point out that the socio-psychological concept of liminality can be easily applied to the global nomad experience. Liminality is originally an anthropological theory developed by the likes of Victor Turner and his colleagues that refers to the “betwixt and between” period individuals may experience during cultural rites of passage and the changes of self and perspective that occur therein.

City of Singapore From the Marina Credit: Camila Castro

City of Singapore From the Marina Credit:
Camila Castro

Often, the only constant in the life of a global nomad – apart from his/her family – is the presence of change. This change can relate to changes of residence such as moving from one house to another, or moving to another country altogether, or changing schools, thereby leading to a change of friends, or myriad other changes that occur on an ongoing basis in a life that is always in transition.

This results in a situation whereby such individuals develop an ingrained rootlessness that most often goes hand in hand with a sense of restlessness (Schaetti and Ramsey). Whether this restlessness is expressed later in life as wanderlust or cyclical changes in a career or lifestyle depends upon the coping mechanism of each individual. For many global nomads life seems incomplete without change and lack of change, as well as “reverse culture shock”, is something they may struggle with if they ever return to their home country for repatriation.

The Concept of “Home”

images-2Unlike most people, global nomads do not usually associate the concept of “home” with their country of birth or their passport country, or even any place they’ve lived in for a significant period of time. There is a broader understanding of what home is and it doesn’t exist as a place, necessarily, but has more to do with the people and the relationships that were built and nourished while residing in a certain destination. Schaetti and Ramsey explain that “typically, home does not exist for the global nomad as a single place but as a multiplicity of relationships”. It is also affected by the level of cultural identity that was achieved in a particular place and how well the individual was able to assimilate into the local culture.

Even once they are settled into adulthood, global nomads will likely not identify their current place of residence with a sense of home, but may continue to view home in terms of their relationships with others, in particular their family. In fact, for people who are raised living between countries and cultures, the question “where are you from?” often inspires feelings of defeat as explaining their multi-national background can be incredibly challenging (Schaetti and Ramsey). For the most part, a global nomad views “home” as being nowhere or everywhere in a broad sense, and more specifically as their parents’ house, regardless of where it is that their parents might be residing at that particular moment.

Global Nomads in the International Arena
Singapore skyline

Singapore skyline

In the past fifty years or so, as the world has grown smaller and become increasingly globalized, the global nomad community has inevitably expanded and become more central to global society. Due to their varied and multi-cultural upbringings as expats, many global nomads are highly motivated and prepared to play roles that in some way have an impact on the international arena. They tend to be well-suited to participate in global affairs due
to their highly developed cross-cultural skills and their ability to adapt potentially stressful situations – such as being regularly uprooted during their youth – into successful and educational realities.

As the world continues to move towards a more globalized reality, it will be interesting to see what kinds of roles the global nomad community will take on and whether global nomads will go from being somewhat of a novelty to being the norm.


Sources:

Schaetti, Barbara F. and Ramsey, Sheila J. “The Global Nomad Experience: Living in Liminality.” October, 2006. (Accessed June 2010).

Schaetti, Barbara. ” Global Nomad, Third Culture Kid, Adult Third Culture Kid, Third Culture Adult: What Do They All Mean? ” January 18, 2006. (Accessed June 2010)

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