Hidden immigrants & belonging: What do these mean for Domains?

Domains 17 just ended and my brain is brimming with ideas and questions. I need to write, to process, but I’m a terribly slow writer. So rather than trying to do too much with this post,  I’m just going to write– put something out there– and walk away. I have to accept that this post might not actually *go* anywhere.

Ok. Deep breath. Exaggerated finger stretching motion. Here we go.

At Domains 17, two lovely people from Michigan State University, Kristen Mapes and Maddie Shellgren, presented about their work with faculty to use Domains to develop digital presence and public scholarship. They started with an activity developed by Donna Lanclos, Lawrie Phipps, and David White (**waves across the pond**) that asks people to “map” their technology use based on White & Cornu’s (2011) “Visitor” and “Resident” continuum. Here is an example of how David White mapped his technologies:

Image by David White, CC BY-NC-ND

I did not follow the rules of the activity. Not because “look at me, I’m such a rule breaker,” but because I was immediately taken back to my dissertation research on Third Culture Kids. The Visitor-Resident framework sparked an emotional connection to my past (as a Third Culture Kid myself) and recollections of what I learned through analysis of Third Culture Kids’ stories. Third Culture Kids, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, are children who reside in host countries for a period of time during their formative years because of their family’s line of work (diplomacy, mission work, military, etc).

My dissertation was a narrative analysis of repatriation stories told by missionary kids, a subgroup of TCKs, who had returned to their home country to attend college. Their stories were sometimes sad, sometimes lonely and lost, sometimes ambivalent, sometimes hopeful. But overall, their stories showed that they did not feel a sense of full belonging to either their home or host cultures. The multiplicity of their cultural “residences” created a liminality in their identity and their sense of home (which is a concept I associate with belonging).

In my literature review, I drew from scarce studies on Third Culture Kids and a more ample set of studies on sojourners and immigrants. Pollock and Van Reken, who seem to be the most cited TCK scholars, provided a framework for exploring TCKs’ cultural identity struggles. Perhaps this is why I harkened back to my dissertation research when Maddie and Kristen had us do the Visitor-Resident activity.

As I reflected on the activity Maddie and Kristen were asking us to complete, the term “hidden immigrant” kept coming to mind. That’s what we call TCKs… “hidden immigrants.” The term indicates that TCKs often look like they belong in their home country (rather, their parents’ home country) but they are culturally apart. I spent my childhood and adolescence in the “adopted” category–my physical appearance different from most Brazilians, while feeling very much like I was Brazilian. When I returned to the US, I was surprised by how different I was from other Americans. Culturally, I did not belong in the US. The TCKs/MKs in my dissertation study did not feel like they belonged in their home countries either.

I certainly appreciate the Visitor-Resident framework and agree that it is much more useful and accurate than Prensky’s Digital Native-Immigrant framework. But as I think about my experiences growing up as a TCK, I want to add more layers to the idea of residency. I have resided in the US for most of my life now and I still cannot claim it as home when people ask me, “where are you from?” (I usually shrug and say, “I don’t claim one place as home…” and stand there sheepishly while the other person decides what to make of that)

How might our V-R frameworks change if we start thinking beyond residency and into belonging? Into home? My sense is that Donna, Lawrie, and Dave are already thinking in those terms:

“The intent of our work, and the workshop, is not to identify those who are “More Resident” so as to claim that their practices are Best and then send their largely Visitor-centric colleagues over to Learn How To Do the Web Better.

Because the V&R workshop is not about Doing the Web Better.  The workshop is a way of visualizing practice, and in particular about making clear all the different ways in which the Web is a Place, a location for people to meet and interact and learn and leave and come back to.  A place where, as with any place that has people in it, individuals can do the social work that results in relationships, where intimacy can flourish even in the absence of face to face interaction.”

Donna Lanclos, People, Places, and Things. Why do Visitors and Residences Workshops? 

How might our conceptions of digital citizenship and domain of one’s own be informed by belonging? Who are the hidden immigrants in our domains initiatives? Note to self, get back into Mike Caulfield’s writing about belonging.

Last thing I’ll say for now…

While I enjoyed Domains 17– it was beautifully-hosted by our colleagues from the University of Oklahoma (shoutout to Adam, John, Keegan) and full of informative sessions– feelings of belonging eluded me throughout the two days. I was surrounded by people I knew and many dear friends, but I sometimes felt like I was at someone else’s party. And I’m glad for those feelings, because they made me more alert to kindred spirits. Kindred spirits whom I’ve known on Twitter but finally met in person at Domains 17; kindred spirits whom I’ve known for years; kindred spirits whom I just recently met. Kindred spirits who taught me a lot. A lot. These people may not top the Twitter lists, or show up in the pictures, but they were earth-moving at Domains 17. Kindred spirits like Lora Taub-Pervizpour. Jordan NoyesKristen Eshleman. Karen Cangialosi. Jenny Darrow. Martha Burtis. Sundi Richard. Evelyn Helminen. And more…

I use the words kindred spirits intentionally. It’s an Anne term. Kindred spirits were the foundation for Anne’s survival in places and worlds where she never truly belonged. They were her anchor for belonging. When she did not “belong” in a place– culturally, physically, emotionally, intellectually– she belonged with her kindred spirits.

Maybe that’s also a term we need to bring into our conversations about domains, residency, and citizenship on the web.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Featured image by Sabine Schulte

13 Responses

  1. Thanks for this post, it’s wonderful and there’s so much to reflect upon. I always feel like I’m at someone else’s party, and I’m always searching for kindred spirits along the way. So this resonates deeply .

    And I adore Anne.

  2. Oh, Amy. I thought I was reading for understanding and then I hit an emotional pothole that threw me off and produced some surprising feelings (and tears not quite ready to fall). Belonging is elusive – at least I’ve often experienced it that way. Perhaps also fleeting or compartmentalized in ways that are not always apparent to us in the moment but surface later or in other contexts. Our need to belong, however, remains with us, with the volume perhaps dialed up or down depending on the situation but it is there. Always.
    So reading about TCK and that framework I was right with you with my intellect and lots of experience in that frame. Then, arriving at belonging and kindred spirits something else happened. Reading about being among friends and well loved colleagues yet experiencing a curious distance, a gap in belonging – that was my personal pothole in the road. The way you describe it – like being “at someone else’s party” – THAT hit me like a ton of bricks. And kindred spirits have been the kinds of people who have helped me cope with, work around, re-examine those feelings of being present yet not fully *of* that particular grouping.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for opening up this can of fresh worms. My reaction tells me that I have some work to do but now infused with so much curiosity, wonder and courage. Your examples give me several points of departure. I’m sure it will become quite a ride.

  3. I always struggle at gatherings of over 4 people.

    It always appears to me that people are ‘of the group’ and I am somehow outside it. Then I see things like this (and see Martha’s claim of being an introvert) and I realize I have no idea about anything (and hopefully I’m not over-projecting here (or over-using ())).

    It makes me think a lot about how to make people feel welcome (online or off) when what I perceive on the surface is so often wrong.

  4. I loved this post Amy. Partly because I related to the opening comment about needing to write but writing slowly. Also, as someone who grew up in four countries I feel like I have strong attachment to each of them but I’m not sure where I belong. It’s not as certain as feeling that I don’t belong. It’s an in-between state I guess. Your comment about the idea of residency needing some extra layers or a beyond is spot on. I think the great thing about the V & R model is that it provides a starting point for a discussion.

  5. Amy,

    It is amazing to me how connecting with people online and then meeting them by phone and then engaging with them person-to-person still doesn’t bring the depth of writing. Here I happened upon this by a post on Mastodon by Kate Bowles who had a piece she wrote on Kith in which she quotes from this article just two weeks after chatting in your office for the first time.

    There were several aspects of this that intrigued me. One, that I did not know you were a Third Culture Kid and am curious as to what and where you grew up. Forgot to ask. Two, to what extent do we all become Third Culture Kids because the place where we grow up tends to change, and change rather drastically in some cases. Three, how, in this culture of moving, whether we all feel what you felt at Domains17, this sense that we don’t belong that we are outside and whether that is what attracts us to digital spaces where we can satisfy our yearning to belong in small ways in different spaces to align with different parts of us and, of course, whether that often leaves us so unsatisfied with those experiences. At least, over time. And to take this rambling response one step further, I am reminded, as I write this, of my daughter, a traveling musician, who talks, sometimes, of how lonely it is, the loneliness made more acute by the intense connections she makes at gigs with old friends (musicians) or new ones (musicians) but they, too, are traveling so the connections are so brief.

    Finally, while I have spent my last 30 years helping others to write, I still feel that I am, in my heart, a writer and I guess that, too, plays into my own feeling of not being sure where I belong, feeling that, actually, I could belong in lots of places but that I travel there when I write.

    Thank you for this. And thanks, too, for our conversations past and future.


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