Blood is not always thicker

I attended a conference last weekend, organised by Families in Global
 (FIGT), an organisation whose aim, among others, is to support families going
through international moves. I write “among others” because FIGT is so much more than that for those of us who lead a mobile life. It is a forum for discussion, an incubator of new ideas, an educational resource, a support network, a community. FIGT is one big family. I smiled when I saw that the theme of this year’s (16th) FIGT conference was, very appropriately, “The Global Family: Redefined.”
I discovered the FIGT conference last year and it was love at first sight. I was hooked; not only by the topics, which are close to my heart, but also by the people. As I wrote a year ago upon my return from the conference, I felt that I had found my tribe – that community of like-minded people who understood where I’m coming from without me having to explain much.
So going back this year felt like visiting old friends. For three days we discussed several aspects of the modern “nomadic” family. We tried to define it, describe it, highlight the rewards and address the challenges it faces. Of all the different subjects that were brought up, many of which my FIGT colleagues will certainly write about, I want to talk about two phrases that I heard that have stayed with me. They were both by our keynote speakers.
As part of her brilliant solo performance that concluded the conference on Sunday, global nomad actress and writer Lisa Liang, impatient with people constantly asking her where she’s from, answers: “I am not from a place. I am from people.” The day before,
another citizen of the world, Dr. Fanta Aw, described family as a mosaic of relationships. Her definition of family as “the people that we claim and the people who claim us” also made an impression.
I found both phrases powerful because they touch upon two fundamental concepts – family and home. These are universal concepts, but especially for those of us who have chosen the nomad’s life, they tend to be dynamic and constantly evolving. My visions of home and family are much different now from what they were when I embarked on my mobile journey. I don’t think I’m the only one. The two phrases I mentioned are indicative of this transformation.
First, home. The more we move around, the less relevant geography becomes to our sense of belonging. Especially if we have had a mobile childhood, but also for those of us who entered this kind of life as adults, it is not place that defines us. We look elsewhere for affiliation and connection, for our sense of home. We find those in people. Our people become our home. We belong to them, instead of belonging to a place.
Who are these people? They are our family, but not in the traditional sense. They are our family, irrespective of whether we are related by blood. Given the kind of lives we lead, it is unlikely that we will find ourselves in the same place as our blood family anyway – at least most of the time. Instead, new people enter our lives constantly and often that network of relationships we build becomes our extended family; the family we choose. These family-members-by-association don’t replace our original family, but they expand it. They enrich our lives, they become our support system, they help us grow. We do the same for them. We become their family.
So our concept of family, like our concept of home, evolves. And that’s a blessing. Don’t you think?


Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at


  1. Perhaps it's because I emigrated when I was eight, but the whole patriotism/nationalism thing goes right over my head. I suppose people's worlds and minds shrink to encompass just their immediate influences if we don't consistently push them to expand. It seems strange to me to be restricted and indelibly defined by something so accidental as the place we happened to be born. And don't get me started on family….
    We have a mixed race family – my husband is from Pakistan, I'm from Ireland and our kids are a mix of English and Scottish – and neither of our parents could comfortably accept us marrying outside of our 'tribe'. How odd, when we're all the same species! Anyway, I'm all for the 'family redefined'. Blood might be thicker than water but it's not as thick as those who can't see the world beyond their window.

    1. Thanks, Aisha, for your comment. I think there are many factors at work here – influencing whether the mind "shrinks" or "expands," in our terms – not least personality (that elusive "expat gene?"), personal history, family or, sometimes, chance. But indeed, something is needed – for that "push." And yes, definitely strange (and frustrating) to have to deal with formal restrictions such as the ones you describe, since they are essentially meaningless to us.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this. FIGT was great, wasn't it? Even though I'm around global/nomadic people all the time, I felt like the FIGT crowd understood me in a unique way. I love that they closed out the conference with Lisa's performance. Are you going back next year?

    Thanks for linking this to the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up!

    1. Thank you, Cate! Last year was my first time and I felt exactly like you describe – which is why I was back this year. Next year's conference is definitely in my plans 🙂

  3. Dear Katia,
    I am so happy I found your post. You exactly described the feeling I came home with. I got to know this amazing community in my adulthood and I felt really welcomed and understood by this incredible extended family.
    Looking forward to the next.

    1. Dear Cristina, thanks! So glad you had a similar experience. Welcome to the tribe 🙂

  4. Beautifully expressed, Katia. Family ties can be blood, law (marriage) and also by opportunity. Sometimes the latter connections are the strongest because we choose them. Definitely not an 'either/or' situation, but an 'also/and' one indeed. So great to see you at FIGT14, never enough time to spend catching up.

    1. Thank you, Linda. I'm a strong believer in family-by-choice as the 'also/and' that you aptly describe. It was really great to see you too!

  5. I too love the "home is people" rather than a place. I refer to a number of homes interchangeably these days, home where I currently live with my family, Portugal, "home" in the UK where we have a house we sometimes return to and "home" of my parents and my husbands parents, they are all homes in different ways, defined by the people who live there and pass through – not just bricks and mortar. Thanks for sharing and sorry we didn't meet at FIGT – next year!

  6. Louise, I agree – different homes, different aspects of home, there's nothing wrong with that. Maybe the use (or lack) of quotation marks indicates which home you feel closer to? Thanks for your comment!

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