Help! I am becoming a social media junky

Okay, what started it all was this crazy desire to be a writer.  But nobody sits downs and writes anymore. They socialize, they connect, they advertise, they promote, they sell.  They pound the pavement on line to build a platform. Reminds me of selling potato chips door to door to raise money to attend Y Camp as a kid.

I naively signed up for blogging 101 and build your author platform with Dan Blank, our social media guru. http://wegrowmedia.com/ Before I knew it I was hooked.

First he encouraged us to blog.  Got that down.  Next step -Twitter.  Twitter scared me. I feared the CTA (Cyberspace Transit Authorities) would catch me smuggling words across borders.  Twitter feels like passing notes in class to strangers.  Twitter is like it sounds –  a bunch of magpies sitting on a telephone line gossiping.

Next Dan insisted,  «join Facebook. » What a tool. Daunting. The concept scared me.  I  avoid  mirrors. I don’t particularly enjoy looking at my face these days, so why  would anyone else ? Yet now, as if displaying the bulletin board of my childhood, my mug shot flashes on the « wall » of the world.

All these people are coming out of the woodwork.  It’s awesome reconnecting with my high school and college alumni, but also unsettling. I can’t get my head around it.  It’s like looking into a trick mirror – we look grey and paunchy. Yet I’m still sweet sixteen in my mind, a skinny thing in pig tails and skinned knees.

The worst part of my new social media gig, is that I no longer want to go to my real job interacting with real students and real colleagues.  It is more rewarding to catch up with former students and friends on line. They are so much smarter than me. English teachers are obsolete. Seriously, no one writes complete sentences anymore.  Even Shakespeare  looks like this – R & J in love 4ever. The downside of social media is that it makes me feel old, dumb, and ugly.

Yet for somebody living abroad, it is a way to link in with old classmates; to keep up with the youth,; to meet new people in a  writers group that shines from sea to shining sea.  Rebecca in San Fran and Barb in LA, Viki in Chicago (http://www.friendgrief.blogspot.com/), Porter in Atlanta (http://www.porterandersonmedia.com/), Kathy (http://krpooler.com/) and Jen in Virginia (http://jenhenderson.com/wordpress/ ) Judith in Italy (http://aromacucina.com/) and Dan in NYC.

To attract more followers, Dan says we need to host events, plan give aways, and create gimmicks.  It makes me feel more like the on-line Avon Lady than Virginia Woolf.  One thing I know for sure working with teens, social media is the future. Tomorrow we “boogie, “on their terms; my generation is on the way out! So suck it up, Pat, and get it on with it.  Tweet. Tweet.

Dr. Jone’s Dream: Equal Education Long Before Brown v. Topeka Kansas

I teach at the world’s oldest and largest international school where the annual tution costs as much as a year of elite university in the states. My students, from affluent families valuing education, cannot understand how minorities denied equal education remain powerless within societies. In 1896 the 14th Amendment guaranteed full rights of citizenship to anyone born in the USA, yet Plessy v. Ferguson, a ruling that same year, upheld social segregation of “white and colored races”. Over a half century later little had changed.  The “separate but equal” doctrine provided the legal basis for racial segregation until the 1954 Brown v. the Board of Topeka, Kansas case. Thirteen families representing twenty school children, led by the NAACP and Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African American judge, challenged the Supreme Court’s decision and deemed the doctrine unconstitutional.  This helped spark the Civil Rights Movement and led to integration of not only schools, but also public places.

Dr Jones & school children

Dr Jones & school children

In 1909, long before that epic battle,  Laurence Jones, a black man with a vision, turned an abandoned sheep shed into The Piney Woods School with meager donations from an impoverished community. This was the beginning of his dream  to educate underprivileged black children in destitute, rural Rankin County, Mississippi.  Over a century later, that one room school has become a thriving 2,000 acres campus, with a high school that can justly boast “we are changing America, and the world, one student at a time.” Alumnus went on to Princeton, Howard, and Tuskegee pursuing degrees in medicine, education, marketing and other careers to become leaders in their fields.

When my grandparents, Ralph and Betty McKinzie, retired from teaching at NIU and DeKalb High School, they dedicated two years of service teaching at Piney Woods.  During Easter break 1968, on a trip to visit my grandparents, we drove through the deep South where I saw ram shackled lean-tos, the remnants of slavery.

Jim, Ralph, Betty McKinzie, Martha Olson, Dr. Jones

 

“How come the Negroes live in shacks?” I asked with the innocence of an ten-year-old.

“Because they are so poor.”

“Why are they so poor?”

“Because they don’t have any land.”

“Hey, I see lots of land,” I said pointing towards a sprawling plantation with stately white pillars. “The whole town could fit in that house; it’s bigger than a hotel!”

At Piney Woods School, my brother and I played basketball with the black boys on a dirt court in a sun-baked paradise surrounded by pine and honey-scented pink and white magnolias. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

“Isn’t it great how well they get along?” my dad asked.

My sisters and new friends

“If only we could remain children in our hearts,” my grandma replied.

As we piled suitcases on top of the Rambler to head back North, a young girl peeked behind her big sister’s cotton skirt to stare at the first white family she’d ever seen.

“Schootch together,” Grandma said, “so I can take your picture.”

I stood by my new friend, the color of chocolate, and beamed as the camera clicked.  Then I reached over and took her soft warm hand in mine. It fit just perfect.

Photographs of my childhood remain etched in my soul forever.  Just as my grandma had hoped, I remained a child in my heart, befriending people from all four corners of the globe in my international community where I teach as an adult.

 

http://www.pineywoods.org/

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Expat Women Worldwide

I was born in Sandwich Illinois at the far, far outskirts of the Windy City, but I have lived by the White House in D.C., the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a 15th century German castle, and Lake Geneva surrounded by the Alps. I moved 12 times in 17 years between four different countries. Even spectacular views cannot erase the bouts of loneliness inherent in expatriate life.

In 1979, as a globe trotting pro basketball player, when I landed in France and saw little women with baseball bats (baguettes) slung lover their shoulders, scurrying down cobblestone streets blowing air kisses, I thought, “OMG, I’ve landed on another planet.”

Back then, in a flat sans telephone, TV, microwave or electronic anything, domestic chores took on new meaning. I washed clothes in the bathtub, shopped daily and my only connection to home was thin, blue, airmail envelops that took ten days to arrive.  Whether living in Germany amongst college co-eds, in Paris as a young mother, or Switzerland as a teacher, friendships with women kept me sane. Throughout my transitions from athlete to coach to teacher to writer, from wife to mom to empty nester, I have depended on a sisterhood of females – teammates, colleagues, friends, neighbors – to help me cope with hard times while living 4,000 miles away from extended family.

My journey would’ve been far less turbulent if ExpatWomen.com Expat Women - Helping Women Living Overseas
, the largest global website helping women living abroad existed when I first moved overseas. Reading the down to earth information on a site displaying over a 1000 content pages, 1600 expat women blogs, 300 readers’ stories, country resources pages, interviews, motivational articles, a blog and newsletter is like sitting down for a cup of coffee with your BFF.

As ExpatWomen.com celebrates its 4th anniversary, I embark on my 32nd year abroad. Happy Birthday to us – women overseas who are raising families, learning other languages, adopting new lifestyles, negotiating internationally and living cross culturally. And a special shout out also to the women back in our homelands who keep us grounded by sharing our past and reminding us where we came from and who we are.

Santé, prost, salud, hälsa, cheers. Here’s to expats worldwide! Bring on the next adventure!

Staying Connected at Christmas Always Worth the Trip

My sibling and I live 5,000 miles apart, away from our childhood home, yet in spite of the distance we remain close. It helped that we were a family born on wheels. In the sixties, at time when most people wouldn’t take four kids five years apart any further than the corner grocery store, my grandparents and parents loaded the station wagon with, nine bags, eight bodies and one big red ice chest and hit the road. Like the Beverly Hillbillies, we cruised the blue highways from sea to shining seas in our beat up old Rambler.


We grew up believing life was an endless road trip. Consequently we continue to spend an inordinate amount of time in our adult lives riding the rail, flying the sky, and pounding the pavement to remain connected.

Just last week over a span of 24 hours, my youngest sister, Karen, drove to my son’s college game in Minnesota, one evening, and dropped our daughter, Nathalie, off at the Minneapolis airport at 6 am the next morning. Then she drove 7 hours to Sterling to support my mom and middle sister, Sue, as my dad recovered from delicate hip reconstruction surgery in Sterling Rock Falls Hospital. Meanwhile my older brother, Doug, and sister in law, Julianne, picked up Nat at the airport in Cleveland and chauffeured her to her residency interview at Rainbow Baby and Children’s Hospital.

In the meantime, Rush Memorial called her for an interview, so my brother-in-law, Cliff in the Chicago suburbs, helped change her ticket and arranged her pick her up 0’Hare Airport. He will drive her to her appointment at Rush; she’ll take the train from there back to the airport to fly to Utah for another interview.

On December 17th, Gerald and I were supposed to fly from Geneva via Amsterdam to Minneapolis. Our son will pick us up in the car he borrows regularly from my brother-in-law Dick. Then after Nathalie arrives from Utah, we will drive back down to Sterling, via our cabin at Summit Lake, to celebrate my dad’s successful surgery.

“And that my dear,” Aunt Mary used to say, “is love in action.”

One wonders what do people do without family?

Every winter, the McKinzie clan will log miles in the air and on land, braving blizzards, airline strikes and flight delays because Christmas happens whenever, wherever and however we can get together.

Be sure to rejoice in the gift of family especially this holiday season. Safe travels to you wherever you gather. May your wheels keep spinning for another year.

Escalade Celebrating The Pot of Soup that Saved Geneva

Sounds crazy, but the Genevians go gaga over L’Escalade, a tradition commemorating Madame Royaume’s famous soup that saved the city from the Savoyard invasion in early hours on December 12, 1602.

copyright Wikimedia Commons

Genevians held off the Duke of Savoy’s invading forces with a little help from a housewife. According to legend the night guard, Isaac Mercier, rang the church bells alerting the local militia. But the real hero was Madame Royaume, mother of fourteen, living above the La Monnaie town gate. She poured a pot of scalding vegetable broth over the ramparts. The heavy cauldron hit a Savoyard’s head, killing him as he was scaling the wall. The commotion spurred the residents to action. Tables, chairs and other pieces of furniture flew over the wall that night as the Genevians fought to maintain their freedom from Savoyard rule.

Every mid December, the quiet Calvin city comes alive in a carnival atmosphere like a giant street party. The event entails various activities, street artists and vendors serving mulled wine and soup at outdoor stands. Shop windows, decorated in Geneva’s colors of red and gold, are filled with chocolate cauldrons, symbolizing Madame Royaume’s marmite, filled with candy vegetables made of marizipan.

On December 4, the festivities kicked off with the 33rd annual Escalade Race where over 22,000 participants ran or walked four miles up and down Geneva’s snow covered, cobblestone streets.

copyright Wikimedia Commons

During the weekend of Dec. 10-12, the prestigious Companie de 1602, the society founded in 1926, organizes one of the most beautiful historic events in Europe attended by 80,000 visitors. The highlight of the fight for independence over 400 years ago is three-hour torch lit parade led where 800 members in period costume re-inact the scene in Geneva’s Old Town. Musketeers, pipers, horsemen, drummers are accompanied by fire crackers and gun salutes.

Though I have smashed open a chocolate pot or two as tradition demands, we never fully joined the festivity of throngs of people crowding Geneva’s streets. Yet, I can’t help but savor the moral of that little Swiss story. Supermom, Mom saves the day again.

Sad Day For Switzerland When Foreigners Go Home

copyright SVP-UDC

Switzerland the neutral, landlocked country at the heart of Europe is associated with chocolate, cheese, and cozy chalets but underneath this image of paradise, lurks an evil, ugly undertone.

A year after voting to ban the minaret, the symbol of Muslim worship, Switzerland voted for automatic expulsion of foreign criminals. After spending millions on racist posters promoting fear, the right wing SVP party won the campaign. 52.9% of vote and 20 cantons endorsed the proposal. Only six cantons voted against it and they were the French speaking ones, which many Swiss consider a separate country. Instead of hope, foreigners live in fear. Ironically, about 20% of Switzerland is composed of foreigners making up a work force predominately fueled by immigrants.

With illegal alien status in the past, I remember living in fear in someone else’s country. I have always been a black sheep. Pioneers live on the fringes of society struggling for acceptance in new roles. In 1980, as a 23-year-old, I emigrated to Europe for an opportunity then denied in my homeland, to play professional basketball. Since then, I have been at the mercy of foreign – French, German, Swiss – governments as an auslander.

Before marrying a Frenchman, I waited in long lines at city hall to renew my residency permit. I spent sleepless night worrying about obtaining a work permit, and then anguished over renewing it every three, six, twelve months depending on the laws of the country. Not allowed to sit on the bench, I instructed my French team from the stands when denied a coaching permit before legal matrimony. For years without work papers, I was paid “au noir” under the table for odd jobs.

Even today working and living in an international environment, not a day goes by where I forget that I am a guest in someone else’s country. As a white skinned foreigner, I no longer worry about keeping a low profile, afraid of being apprehended in Paris without the proper paperwork proving my legitimacy. In airports and train stations, I still feel anxious that I may be stopped and detained for some infraction.

But my fear is far greater for my darker skinned brother whose differences are more visible. Without steady employment, without family network, and without a Francophone spouse who can interpret the legalities and help fight for one’s rights and dignity, assimilation as a foreigner is difficult even in the best of circumstances. I chose to leave my homeland during a time when a career as a profession female athlete seemed like a frivolous pursuit, but even then, I never doubted, should my venture fail, I would always be welcomed back home. What about those who flee to survive, like political refugees and asylum seekers escaping from totalitarian governments and war torn societies? Or others like my grandfather who came to America in pursuit of a better life?

copyright Gérald Lechault (non SVP-UDC)

In the picture-perfect, postcard image of Switzerland, cows graze in green valleys where tidy villages spill out of a backdrop of spectacular white-peaked mountains. But underneath this placid scene, a storm is brewing. Is Switzerland as tranquil and tolerant as it appears?