In March Claudiaexpat and Cristinaexpat presented What Expats Can Do at the FIGT 2017 conference. Claudia shares her feelings about the experience.
After the FIGT17 conference in The Hague, all participants felt the urge to express their feelings and the lessons learnt in what had been a truly fantastic event, for newcomers and returnees alike. I am no exception, but in the days immediately after the conference I was blissfully absorbed by the presence of my sons (we had talked on the first day of the conference about empty nest syndrome in an excellent forum led by Jo Parfitt, with Ruth van Reken, Ellen Mahoney, Becky Grappo, Katherine Fortier, and Terry Anne Wilson), and by being back in my home town and seeing my elderly mother.
Almost two months have gone by since then, and while I have rejoiced in what the delegates from the conference have produced (a podcast with Dominika Miernik, a lovely live reflection with Naomi Hattaway of ‘I am a Triangle’), I did not find the time to sit down and pour my own feelings out on paper. Besides, many great women have already done that, and have been perfect in conveying the amazing atmosphere the conference managed to create.
So, while I sit down today to remember the precious moments of the conference, I wonder whether there is something that has not been touched upon or if I can maybe give a personal perspective or add something to the feed-back. And I decided to simply let the flow of memories express themselves without a precise structure. Because really, all the presentations were absolutely wonderful and I am sure they have given everybody the same level of inspiration they have given me. But there have been other little things, pictures that come back to mind, that I took away well secured in my heart:
- the hugs, the physical reconnection with women I had met only briefly last year, and with whom I immediately felt at home. And who gave me the wonderful feeling of reunion with old friends (and I love reunions);
- I think of Rita Rosenback, the FIGT vice president, who had written to tell us that she had chosen to introduce our session because she loved What Expats Can Do and thought we all needed to talk more about the issues we were presenting. The gratitude I felt for her, and the urge to express it when I saw her physically in front of me;
- Meeting Naomi Hattaway and Amel Derragui the afternoon before the conference, and going with them to the presentation of the Expat Archive Center. Naomi was (and still is) a legend for me. I strongly admire her ‘I am a Triangle’ group, in which I always promise to participate more because I love the warmth and communal atmosphere of its Facebook group. With Amel, whose Tandem Nomads is for me equally inspiring, I had e-mailed recently because I needed a contact in Algeria (which she promptly provided). It was so nice to share a taxi and chat on our way to the Expat Archive Centre and back;
- The pang of sorrow I felt when Rachel announced that Chris O’Shaughnessy could not make it to the conference. I had so looked forward to giving him a warm hug, after his key opening speech at the conference last year had inspired ‘What Expats Can Do’, the project we launched and presented this year, and that has been such a great source of growth and connections;
- The wave of love and empathy I felt one day when, at the end of the afternoon, I was going to relax at the bookshop with my colleague, and a lady came towards us, asking where we were going. She was worried that not enough participants would be present at one of the sessions, and we both silently entered the room where it was about to start – an underlying sense of empathy linking us;
- The walks and restaurants with so many old and new friends, in that wonderful atmosphere of coming from so many different corners of the world; the sensation of being a truly international (in the most beautiful sense of term) community, gathered around principles and values that are of importance for the whole world;
- Seeing Cristina in person again, after a year, and after so much work accomplished at such a distance, always in different time zones;
- And of course, buying raffle tickets to support the David C Pollock Scholarship Programme and winning six books!
During my presentation of ‘What Expats Can Do’ at the conference, I talked about linguistic empathy, a concept that I was only able to define precisely thanks to the FIGT experience. As I explained, both Cristina and I are not native English speakers, and we felt a powerless sense of frustration when we wanted to launch our new project, which was so important to us, and were not sure of being able to actually convey its meaning. We found ourselves struggling with words and concepts, while realising that, ironically, it would only be native English speakers who would have difficulties in grasping what we meant. All other language speakers, who are used to struggle to be understood when they express themselves in English, are probably more equipped to grasp the meaning behind words.
Seeing the positive reactions and the interest that this concept stirred in the audience, I found the motivation to mould it into words and actions. With my team at Expatclic, we decided to actively start practising linguistic empathy both in our work on Expatclic and its related projects, and in our lives and community.
My dream is to be able to attend an FIGT conference in the future, where at least a couple of sessions can be in languages other than English. Expats are linguistically so rich; FIGT hosts individuals whose primary language is different from English, but mostly who have lived in so many countries, and I am sure would love to be able to listen and participate in languages they have come in contact with, or functioned in at specific moments of their lives.
This is the real treasure I take away from FIGT this year: the definition of a new concept of empathy in relation to languages, and the certainty that I want to apply it in my peripatetic lifestyle.
Claudia Landini (Claudiaexpat)