"Okay, what did I learn from over here? What did I learn from over there? How can I put those together to tell me something about a new situation?" (NBee, Episode 54)
(Note: Currently I have a cold and I lost my voice over the weekend, so if you're wondering why I sound hoarse in the intro and outro of this episode, that's why. But don't worry, the actual interview was recorded back in early February when I still sounded like my normal self!)
Well what do you know. It's March! And we're kicking off this month with a guest by the name of Naeema, or NBee. We're both members of the Women of Color Podcasters group on Facebook, and when I posted about seeking new guests in the group's January collaboration thread, NBee is one of the people who reached out to me in response. She is Canadian (originally from Toronto, now based in Alberta), and her podcast is a creativity and innovation-focused show called Cross-polliNation, which won the 2019 Canadian Podcast Award for "Outstanding Business Series". NBee has studied, lived, and worked in multiple countries during various phases of her life, and this started with growing up as a "third culture kid" or TCK.
According to Merriam-Webster, a third culture kid is "a child who grows up in a culture different from the one in which his or her parents grew up". Though specific situations may vary, a TCK has usually spent a significant amount of their developmental years living outside of their own country/culture of origin. NBee didn't become aware of this term until she was much older, but it perfectly describes her own upbringing. Her family had moved from South Africa to Canada (where she was born) during apartheid, and at the age of 5, NBee moved with her parents to Europe and southern Africa before returning to Toronto when she was in sixth grade. She went from having to learn Dutch while finishing kindergarten in the Netherlands, to being home-schooled in Botswana, to going to a formal elementary school and learning Shona in Zimbabwe. NBee remarked to me that adapting to each new situation wasn't too difficult, because when you're younger you're not thinking about things as much, and your friend groups aren't too established or important yet. Plus, having her parents, classmates, neighbors, and other expat families around her enabled her to have substantive social interactions in each country she lived in.
After returning with her parents to Toronto, NBee stayed put for a while. This gave her stability, but it also proved challenging at times because she felt out of the loop in so many ways. She had to readjust to the school system, and also catch up on cultural things that her peers already seemed to know. But eventually she found her footing, and toward the end of high school she was feeling the urge to see other parts of the world again. She saw a flyer at her school advertising a three-week summer biology course in the Bahamas, and after working to save up the money and convincing her parents that the program wasn't just a front to go on vacation, she arrived in the Bahamas with a group of other students from all over Canada. This was NBee's first trip outside of Canada without her parents or relatives, and it not only helped her earn high school biology credits, but it was also a great opportunity for her to hone in on what she wanted to pursue in university. (By then NBee knew she wanted to major in science, but didn't know which specific field of study would suit her best.) She and her fellow students did some hands-on research at a field station on San Salvador Island, and while she found biology interesting, the experience confirmed that it wasn't what she wanted to major in. And so she was open to trying something else.
NBee went on to major in environmental science at the University of Guelph in Ontario, and was able to spend a summer in Finland thanks to a work-study program she secured through the University of Helsinki. She was placed at a research station in a small town, and though she was the only foreign student (and only person of color) there that year, she was surrounded by people who were similar to her in age and academic interest. Her grad student neighbors helped introduce her to local culture, including the basics of sauna etiquette and how to maneuver the banking system. Work materials and correspondence was in English, but the rest of daily life was in Finnish, and years later NBee was inspired to take Finnish classes back in Canada.
After completing her undergraduate degree, NBee worked overseas for a while in China (Wuhan) and South Africa (Johannesburg and Pretoria) before going on to start a master's degree program in England. Having been trained initially as a scientist, her interests shifted toward the policy side of science, which led her to study international trade and development at the University of Greenwich in London. The type of master's program she was interested in doing didn't really exist in Canada at the time, and plus, she wanted more international exposure on top of the experiences that she'd already accumulated. It took a while to get used to how the grad system worked in the UK, and the limited communal spaces in the dorms meant she had to go out and meet new people on her own. But as usual, NBee eventually got the hang of it. Working part-time helped her gain a deeper understanding of London, and a surprisingly ample amount of free time allowed her to explore the city and get to know people.
Wanting to feel rooted again, NBee returned to Toronto after earning her master's degree in the UK. She eventually earned an MBA as well, and is currently based in Alberta with her husband. Some years have passed, and now she feels like she's been home in Canada long enough that she'd be happy to spend some time overseas again. She has learned that the urge to be somewhere else is something that never completely goes away, as having "itchy feet" is one of the legacies of growing up as a third culture kid. Of course, moving abroad would take much planning and consideration given her and her husband's respective careers, but in the meantime they are hoping to take a vacation soon. NBee continues to interview her podcast guests about "combining fields, knowledge & talents to create something new" on Cross-polliNation, and strives to show people that innovation can happen anywhere. NBee can be found at crosspollination.co, on Twitter (@Pollinata1), or on Instagram (@crosspollinationpod).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Canadian Third Culture Kid (CROSS-POLLINATION)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
"Crossing Continents" (Cross-polliNation episode featuring explorer Mario Rigby)