Children migrants & Third Culture Kids. Roots and Routes. International Conference

Agnieszka Trąbka

Roots and Routes of children migrants

The period of the late 20th and early 21st centuries is sometimes called "the age of migration" (Castles and Miller 2009). The number of migrants is estimated at 214 million people, which means that they would constitute the fifth most populous country in the world. Stephen Castles and Mark Miller claim that not only the number of migrants is rising, but also new forms of migrations are emerging. Enlargement of the European Union in 2004 and in 2009 resulted in a new wave of migrations from Central-Eastern Europe to Britain, Ireland and the Scandinavian countries. Recently, due to the economic crisis, some migrants decided to return. Among these new tendencies we can also mention feminization of migrations, transnational parenting and blurring the boundaries between traditional categories of home and host country, migration and tourism. Migration studies focusing on these phenomena rarely consider the role of children in the migration process and the impact of migration on children. The international conference entitled "Children Migrants & Third Culture Kids. Roots and Routes" which took place at the Jagiellonian University (Krakow, Poland) was aimed at filling this gap in migration studies and focused primarily on children. During the three-day conference we could listen to and discuss 65 papers scheduled in 14 parallel sessions as well as three plenary lectures and a panel discussion. Overall nearly 100 people from 12 European countries and the United States, Canada and Japan participated in this event. They represented different academic fields, among which the most prominent were sociology, psychology, religious studies, anthropology, linguistics and different non-governmental organizations dealing with children migrants and refugees. The conference was held under the honorary patronage of Ms. Irina Bokowa, Director-General of UNESCO, Mr. Radosław Sikorski, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, Mr. Marek Michalak, The Ombudsman for Children in Poland and Prof. Dr. Hab. Maria-Jolanta Flis, Vice-Rector for Jagiellonian University Development.

After the opening of the conference by Prof. Maria Flis, the first speaker, Prof. Halina Grzymała-Moszczyńska discussed the need for interdisciplinary research of children's migration and set the tone for the entire conference. She focused on psychological problems of children migrants and particularly on the issues of attachment to space and to people and suggested that psychologists should take a closer look at young migrants from the perspective of the attachment theory (John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth). The second plenary lecture by Prof. Ewa Nowicka was focused on scholarly education of immigrants in Poland. The issue of scholarly education of children migrants was one of the leading topics during the conference. During one of the afternoon parallel sessions religious education in the context of migration was discussed. It turns out that very often (at least in Poland and Belgium) children take part in Catholic religion classes even if they are not from a Catholic family. Adam Anczyk mentioned the lack of information about other (than Catholic) religions in the program of religious education, while Katarzyna Kubin of the Foundation for Social Diversity identified different problems faced by foreign students in the Polish public education system. Marie Campigotto revealed how children manage to negotiate between different religious practices in school, at home and in multicultural peer groups.

Migration is also a challenge from the linguistic point of view. These issues were discussed thoroughly on Saturday morning. Speakers focused mainly on the acquisition of a second language and its consequences for the native language and for cultural identity. Referring to Polish schools Agata Szybura demonstrated the crucial role of additional classes of Polish as a foreign and second language in pupils' adaptation. In the context of the above-mentioned problems the question of how to choose the best school in a particular situation becomes fundamental. Agnieszka Hennel-Brzozowska argued that international schools are the best option for children migrants, because being "foreign" is a norm there, so even newly arrived children are not stereotyped or marginalized and school employees are experienced in dealing with transition and adaptation issues. Danau Tanu however, basing his ideas on fieldwork in an international school in Jakarta, indicated that international schools are in fact Western or American/British when it comes to the curriculum and teachers' nationalities. Saturday's plenary lecture "Education for a life-world or a hegemonic construct? Schooling in the British Empire, in France and in Canada, 1830s-2000s" by Prof. Dirk Hoerder tackled issues of educational policy from a historical and comparative perspective. The author of "Cultures in Contact" analyzed how curricula constructed by representatives of dominant cultures were aimed at transmitting to colonized or immigrant youth the values and attitudes of this culture. He also demonstrated how colonized or immigrants' children have a broader perspective with the ability to switch between at least two cultural contexts or negotiate between them.

Another important question raised during the conference was the influence of migration on the family system and especially on motherhood. When it comes to migrating parents there are two concurrent discourses: on the one hand, interviews conducted with Polish migrant mothers by Paula Pustulka, Karolina Nikielska-Sekuła, Magdalena Ślusarczyk and Krystyna Slany showed the "centrality of children" in their narrations, taking into account their future chances, happiness and "welfare". In this light migration seems to be an expression of good parenting or even self-sacrificing for children. On the other hand, however, there is a discourse of "euro-orphanhood" (the term itself became popular mainly in mass-media, not in academia), in which children are perceived as vulnerable victims of parents' decisions. The second perspective does not take into consideration children's agency, whereas many speakers highlighted the idea that analyzing children migration from the perspective of structural pressures and agency may be very inspiring and fruitful. Children migrants' agency manifests itself in influencing parents' decisions about migration, in taking care of younger siblings and different ways of negotiating identity in the migration process. Identity construction was another prominent subject during the conference. On Friday afternoon, Katia Mace-Nazina argued that the age of migration influences the likelihood of identity struggles of children migrants. Those who changed country in adolescence had more difficulties with adaptation to the school system, establishing friendships and forming a stable identity in comparison with those who migrated prior to adolescence. Katarzyna Wójcikowska explained different identity strategies of Polish return migrants, while Agnieszka Radziwinowicz demonstrated that in the case of Mexican children born and brought up in the United States it is very difficult to distinguish between home and host country, between migration and re-emigration. Very often these kids lack linguistic and cultural competences to study in their parents' country.

Consistently with what the title of the conference suggests, a few sessions were dedicated to Third Culture Kids (TCKs). TCK is referred to as "a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside his/her parent's culture". The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any (Pollock and van Reken 2009: 13). TCKs are usually children of businessmen, diplomats, scholars, missionaries or employees of transnational companies. The concept was coined in the '60s by American sociologists John and Ruth Hill Useem. On Sunday, Ann Cottrell, who conducted a great deal of research on American TCKs, commented on the changes within this category in the last few decades. Agnieszka Trąbka presented six "ideal types" of TCKs' biographies: homecomer, settled down, uprooted, continuator, nomad and explorer. She argued that Third Culture Kids' trajectories in adult life depend on their country of origin, their parents' educational strategy and the cycle of moves they have experienced. Claudia Vorheyer concentrated on those TCKs who choose for themselves a mobile career and illustrated the construction of cosmopolitan identity with her biographical research. It seems that these "Transnational Mobiles" play an important role in the process of transnationalisation and emerging post-national forms of identity.

On the one hand, TCKs lead a relatively privileged lifestyle (usually their financial situation is good, they attend prestigious schools and colleges, they know foreign languages, new technologies etc.). On the other hand, they very often experience serious problems in adapting to their passport country's culture and have difficulties in constructing a cohesive and integral identity. A number of psychotherapists and psychologists present at the conference explored these issues thoroughly, highlighting particularly identity struggles, difficulties in social relations, conflicts within the family and low self-esteem as a result of being uprooted so many times.

Last but not least, numerous problems experienced by refugees and asylum seekers were identified during the conference. Luzia Jurt talked about family separation in the process of asylum seeking and difficulties of reunification among refugees in Switzerland. Bahnaz Tavakoi shed light on multiple discrimination experienced by Afghan girls seeking asylum in Iran, while Joanna Grzymała-Moszczyńska and Karolina Łukasiewicz examined discriminatory practices toward children migrants in detention centres in Poland. Subsequently, some good practices of work with refugees were presented. Sheila Melzak of the Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile insisted on the necessity of providing young asylum seekers with professional psychological help and the need of strengthening their resilience. Katharina Benedetter and Marianne Dobner presented Cultural Orientation Trainings organized by the International Organization for Migration for unaccompanied minor refuges in Austria.

It is impossible to recapitulate in this short paper all the topics discussed during this three-day event, nor to mention every speaker. The conference proved that the migration of children is an important topic which demands more attention not only from academic researchers, but also of teachers, psychotherapists, social workers and policy makers. Hopefully the East-Central-European Network for Research on Children Migrants established by Beatrix Bukus after the conference and the Sirius Network focused on the Education of Children with migrant background will draw attention to the subject of children migrations.

Agnieszka Trąbka

Poslední změna: 15. srpen 2018 20:07 
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