We get by with a little help from our friends

Comedian, author and speaker Chris O’Shaughnessy brought the Great International Education and Schools' Fair to a close with an upbeat look at how the global community is in a great place to navigate uncertainty.

GIESF closing keynote
Relocate Global’s Great International Education and Schools Fair brought together 60 international schools and 42 educators and experts in 16 practical and inspiring webinars.Rounding out the month-long celebration of the fantastic work international educators are involved in to offer community and stability at a time of great uncertainty, author Chris O’Shaughnessy offered a refreshing and lighthearted take on the importance of communuity and individual action.

Journey of a lifetime

Many listening to the webinar will be struck by the relatability of Chris's anecdote about being stuck on a train with his friend in Croatia on one of the hottest days of the summer with no air-conditioning or ventilation. In many ways, the pandemic this year has felt similar.Yet, from struggle and adversity comes invention and creativity. Chris's friend produces a key ring, which happens to fit perfectly the bolt on the window, meaning the bolts can be levered out, one by one, throughout the carriage. Relishing the fresh air and enjoying their good fortune, Chris quickly recognises that others could be struggling like he and his friend were in the rest of the train. He decides to go on a mission to check. Despite the language barrier, Chris heads off, and with a growing band on followers, "throws open the windows to let the fresh air in". Carriage by carriage, Chris liberates the remainder of the train and its passengers from an uncomfortable journey, making longstanding friends in the process.It's a great example of how with a little action, empathy and a different mindset, each of us can change situations for the better and feel good about it.

Building empathy

Chris O’Shaughnessy, an author, comedian and speaker on globalisation and Third Culture Kids (TCKs), believes it is exactly this banding together and multi-faceted approach to problem-solving as communities needed today. Mr O’Shaughnessy referred to research showing while technology has made our lives easier, it is to the point we need to build empathy back into our relationships with others. The pandemic has put this into sharp focus. “I believe that we are in the midst – without sounding overly dramatic – of another revolutionary time,” said Chris O’Shaughnessy. “A time that is changing how we live, presenting us with new challenges and opening up new opportunities, is also ushering in a need to act intentionally on some things we may take for granted.“I believe that one of those things that needs a little more focus now is empathy – the ability to be moved by the feelings of other people.”

‘We are all TCKs’

One of the most inspiring observations from the schools participating in the Great International Education and Schools Fair is how nurturing global citizens relies on the interdependence of the school, parents, teachers, pupils, local and global communities and an international outlook.This interdependence is linked directly to empathy: the ability to stand together despite apparent differences, understand others’ perspectives, connect and thrive.Back in the 1980s, researcher and author Ted Ward remarked “TCKs are the prototype citizens of the future.” For Chris O’Shaughnessy, a TCK himself, that time is now. “The skills TCKs pick up with cross-cultural exposure and transience are the skills we all need today,” he said, highlighting how globalisation has thrown up many contradictions. “The challenges TCKs face are the challenges we all face.“Globalisation is making identity difficult for everyone. It ties up often conflicting ideas, like removing barriers to trade and commerce, but also encouraging people to buy locally as much as possible. And how can we protect local cultures and heritage, but present a more united front internationally?” 

Acting on our interdependence

Acknowledging it is a “tall order to work out the complexities of these identities,” Chris O’Shaughnessy believes that expats, TCK children and globally aware and globally mobile adults and professionals have huge experience of being adaptable and awareness of the interdependence of communities. “We have the incredible ability to hone our empathetic skills because of our circumstances,” he said. “Transition, change management and observation are all skills related to empathy. Something the world really needs right now.”This perspective offers TCKs, adults, parents, spouses, educators, expats, globally mobile professionals and those who work with them, not to mention local communities who are taking on the challenges of global movement, the opportunity to be “bridge builders” as we move on from the pandemic and what it has shown us. “We have a truly phenomenal wealth of skills, talent and knowledge spread out across the globe,” said Chris O’Shaughnessy. “Transition is something all of us have to deal with more and more. “The pandemic has created a situation where we have all been sent on assignment to a new location. We are all having to learn and adapt – much like many expats and globally mobile people – repeatedly and on a much larger scale. The beautiful thing is, amid all this is there is hope.”

Building bridges and understanding

“As many of the talented speakers in this event have pointed out,” continued Chris O’Shaughnessy, “we not only have the resources to get through the circumstances we find ourselves in, but also the skills to excel, learn and thrive. That is a phenomenal thing that the world needs. I really believe we have been given some tools and skills that can help.”“The reality is that the world is moving closer and closer to a globally mobile experience, even during the pandemic. We as a community have the ability to be the bridge builders and offer hope. The empathetic skills we’ve been able to hone are in need now as empathy levels decline. “The ability to adapt, observe and take on multiple perspectives are skills that everybody needs. We need to be spreading and demonstrating them as far as possible. There are hundreds of things we can do."Chris highlighted several initiatives, including Relocate Global's and community, and What Expats Can Do where we can all flex our international mindedness, build relationships and feel good about it.At the end of the firestorm that was 2020, an invitation to look at what we can do to help others and thrive is a refreshing prospect.

Read more about the Great Education & Schools' Fair 

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