Greg: Hi guys, Greg Denning here. I am in Germany right now in this beautiful home and with this wonderful woman, Melissa. We’ve been talking and having such a great conversation so I just wanted to share some ideas.
Greg: This is Melissa Dalton Bradford and she has 4 children (3 living). She is living in Germany now, and has been in the Europe for 25 years?
Melissa: Yes. So let’s see, I lived in Vienna when I was a student and my husband and I were newly-weds. We lived in Hong Kong with our oldest child. We moved from the greater New York city area in the early 90’s to an island west of Oslo in Norway. And then we moved to Versailles, outside of Paris, we moved into Paris, we moved to Munich, we moved to Singapore, we moved to Geneva in Switzerland and now we are living just outside of Frankfurt, Deutschland. So here we are. It has been about 25 years on the road.
Greg: What a spectacular journey!
We have just been having tons of great conversations together about education, Worldschooling, about family, about values, about lessons learned. So let’s just dive right into what have been the most valuable lessons you’ve learned in this whole journey?
Melissa: I am so glad that you asked that because I need to be able to distil my ideas. I lecture on this and am preparing a lecture for an international school on this very topic.
There are a few things that I’ve thought about and that I’ve developed after so many years of traveling and going to different places. And one of them is that you become as a family. The possibility is that you can become this galvanized strong unit! You go through so much together when you are uprooting yourself and re-rooting yourself over and over again. And when you all standing there (let’s say in Morocco) and you realize, “We don’t know anything about this place or anyone here, and we have to enter into this culture and we want to enter into this culture.’’ And you watch yourself guide your children and struggle with the unknown and break culture barriers. And you know your children are watching you so closely for clues of rejection or acceptance, do you know what I mean?
Greg: Yeah exactly. It’s the parent saying, “How I do this?” You are the model!
Melissa: Yes the modeling is absolutely essential. I like to use this French phrase that is goes, “Les enfants ont des grands yeux.’’ which means, “Children have big eyes.” They are constantly observing how adult role models are going to manage a situation. It’s your choice… are you going to recoil in fear? Or are you going to lean into the conversation with the person who looks utterly different from you and/or who speaks in a different language? Are you going to be vulnerable?
Melissa: I think we do our children a disservice when we try to put up some façade of invulnerability. The whole, “This is not scary for me” or the, “I am not feeling awkward.” But when we turn to our children and say, “This is a little uncomfortable!’’ or something like, “I have never eaten this, I didn’t even know this was edible!” or, “I don’t know how to communicate.” With that humble attempt as a parent to integrate and to look at every human interaction as a possibility to learn. I think that’s critical.
Greg: Yes! Those who are reading this, are you catching all these great messages! This is WorldSchooling, this is parent mentoring!
Greg: The curiosity, the always learning! So it could present so much instability, but you are saying that actually if it is done well, it can create stability.
Melissa: Great stability. The families that I work with and to whom I lecture, and those that are in this international community. They talk about what it does for your family. It can push you to the point of breaking, it can push you to that breaking point because everybody is going through so much adjustments at the same time.
Greg: Which is good!
Melissa: Yeah. But think about as engineers, when something has many movable parts and when it is moving gyroscopically, something has to be stable. Something has to be deep and unmovable. It is something that has to do with parental relationships, it has a lot to do with values and attitudes. So something has to be stable so it can hold together this gyroscopically moving mechanism. And you can pull together as a family not by pretending that this is not difficult, but by admitting, “this is hard for us, this is a challenge. Be all of us have strengths that we can bring together that will help us through this experience.” And for me, we’ve moved maybe 19… I think this might have been the 20th move here to the center of Germany. And In 9 different countries and all of us have to be schooled in different languages and working in different languages. For me, when people ask about our lifestyle (as I’m sure they ask about yours Greg), they say, ‘’Wow wasn’t it really glamorous to go to this part of South America, or to this part of Mexico, or this part of Europe?’’ Well those are not the things that resonate with me! The things that resonate with me are almost these… indescribable moments! These epiphanies where you realize that, “I am connecting… and my children are connecting with this native culture.” That moment when you actually carry on a conversation in Mandarin Chinese. And it’s just small things but you feel like, “We are human beings that are connecting here in an important level and my children also feel integrated here.” Those are much more important than what is so easily posted on Instagram and Facebook, all the glam shots.
Greg: Yes exactly. It’s not the highlight reel, the touristy places, It’s those special moments. Even the little conversations you have afterwards, the, “Hey I made this connection and learned something special.” The values, so important!
Melissa: Yes that is so important. And the other thing I have learned is that you have to build a community everywhere you go. You don’t want to approach these cultures as explorers or as cultural imperialists obviously. You want to do what Margaret Mead’s daughter Mary Catherine Bateson said. She said, “you will have a good intercultural experience if you approach it as an adopted child” You know what I am saying?
Greg: Yes. And you want to be a part of it!
You want to be a part to beholding to that culture to teach you and you are not going to impose your political, philosophical, religious, linguistic norms on somebody else. Would you agree? Well this is at least the way I feel.
Greg: Oh I agree! I see so many people that are like, “Why isn’t this more like my place?” and I say, “wait woah, we are here to embrace.”
Melissa: “We are here as adopted children!” When you walk over a frontier, over a border, into a new culture, you are a guest there. And so you have to be very alert and you have to model as a parent how to watch for the cultural codes and those cues. They do it differently in Costa Rica than how they do it in Guatemala, or Russia, or Singapore, and everywhere else. Things are done differently. People eat differently, they greet one another differently, they parent differently, but we are all part of this messy colorful global family that has to find points of connection. And I’m sure you have seen this while traveling all over the place?
Greg: Oh always. The humanity from India to Morocco to Germany. The humanness that is in us.
So how have you and your husband and your children overcome a prejudice or a difficulty that may create barriers? Because it’s so easy to keep barriers instead of connecting.
Melissa: Yeah sure. It is easy to experience new things as “other.” And I’m really a strong believer, and Greg I know that you are too, in the nuances of languages. I think that as we mentor, as we model as parents, we have to be very careful and very sensitive to the language that we are using when talking to our kids. We have to realize what we are describing and naming to our children what the experience is. And as soon as one says, “Well they do it like this and they are so different.” or, “Isn’t that so strange?” Saying those things will define to a great extent what kind of experience our children will have. If we talk about, “The other” and us being against, “The other” then we become onlookers and not, “Inlookers” of the culture. If we think of it like a zoo, that’s the onlooking mentality. Don’t treat a culture like a zoo. Get in it! Get involved. And experience it from the inside.
Here’s what I think. I think that that every attempt to learn to speak the native language of any culture is going to do two things: It’s going to send a signal to your host culture, that you respect, you value, you admire and you even reverence their culture.
Greg: And you are attempting to get into it.
Melissa: Right! You’re not imposing your own language on them and expecting them to cross over their border to appease you. “We’ve come here as adopted children in your culture and we need to learn from you.” And the second thing it does is that is actually changes you. When you speak Spanish, you become in a way a different kind of person; you feel the language in your mouth. Something shifts in you and you understand the subtleties of a culture. When I speak French, I feel the Frenchness of the people and I understand where they are coming from. I speak Norwegian. Norwegian has many multiple words for the one English word, “Snow.” And it’s now surprise because the Norwegians for generations have been defining snowness. So it helps you understand things about a people. The way a language fits together, how it sits in your mouth, how it uses your brain… I think it’s fascinating. So lean the language!
Greg: Yeah, learning languages changes the way you think. So as you’re out in a new culture having a new experience, and you said you would go to new places and stay for years, what are some of the concrete things that you would do in a country with your children to fully embrace and to learn from it?
Melissa: The first word that percolates of the top of my mind is, “Service.” I think you have to find a means where you can serve. And that may not be so easy when you first arrive to a new place. But once you find an organization, an entity, or when you create something yourself, to serve… something truly magical happens! You become invested in the welfare of the people and the culture becomes individualized and not just some wall of people. Because you get to know names, faces, their smells, their sensorial exchange that goes on.
Greg: Their circumstances, How they live, and why they do what they do. And when you are on that level, it changes you and it changes them.
Melissa: So for our family, we are very engaged to our church community, we are active churchgoing people. Our church is relatively well established in all the countries that we go to. And we have chosen to go to congregations where we are then asked to serve while we are there. We have a lay clergy in our church. We landed a place in Norway for instance, and within a very short time were asked to pitch in… which at first is terrifying, but at the same time that becomes the vehicle through which you learn languages, you learn culture, you make friends, you become invested, people respond to you not as somebody who is just a tourist to their culture, but someone who would just as soon say, “I’ll stay here forever.” So I think finding a way you can serve… I think that’s a big one.
Greg: And I have to say. Even if you never leave your home, even if you never go anywhere… just by doing those things that she mentioned, serving, connecting in another way even with your neighbors, you’ll see them differently. It will change you, it will change them! There will be a connection now.
Well you maybe asking, “how am I going to serve and do those things?” But we were just discussing a while ago how there’s other ways to serve.
It’s not just, “Well they don’t have enough food so let’s buy them some food.” There are other ways to serve! So how can we serve and connect with humanity wherever we are?
Melissa: Our family has not lived in third-world countries. We have visited third-world countries but we have not lived in any so I really can’t speak with authority when it comes to that… unfortunately. However, I can say this. There are different kinds of hunger, there are different kinds of need, and there are many kinds of poverty. Some of them are visible such as seeing people that don’t have toilets, people that don’t have food, people that don’t have an education… and I heartily applaud those good people who are responding to those needs. There are also people who live with a poverty of spirit and they might have every possible kind of material thing that you could dream of, and more perhaps. But there are people in pain and in need in every community that you will ever live in or step into. There are people who struggle with addictions, with alcohol, with loneliness, with depression, with the estrangement …
Greg: Just living in fear. Living in fears and anxieties with insecurities.
Melissa: Right. And I’ve found that any attempt to make human contact, to listen to people’s stories of need, is helpful. And it helps us also to set our own needs in a larger context. And you don’t have to reach your arm out very far and spin around in a circle before you touch the shoulder of somebody else that has experienced major lots. Being open to share one’s own story of loss and then to reach into someone else’s life and just be listening, sympathetic ear can be food to someone’s soul, it can be nourishment to the hungry. Because we are all, at one point or another, all of us are going to be lost and all of us are going to be starving, either figuratively or literally in this world. That is not just some pretty poetic language that’s something that I’ve lived and is real.
Greg: We need to reach out and receive help. To go to both sides and to be vulnerable and to receive that and to turn around and give it. To reciprocate.
Melissa: Yes, absolutely. Important lessons for us to model also as parents to are Children is how can we possible reach out and be of use to humanity even in our own pain. If we are always focused on how people look differently from us, sound differently, live differently, dress differently, eat differently, if our vision is always seeing the differences rather than finding points of connection and similarities and building and expanding on those, than we will live in a sort of self constructed prison. And we really need community and unity more than ever before. This is a world that could become crippled and paralyzed by fear and not all these fears can be so easily remedied. We really live with a certain degree of terror and fear in today’s world.
Greg: And chaos! I’ve seen it, Melissa you’ve seen it, and the people reading this have seen it. There’s a lot of darkness in this world, a lot of chaos and hurt, but we can make a difference! We can learn about ourselves and about each other. We can improve ourselves and then therefore it gives us power to have a positive impact.
Melissa: Yes. And to light one another! Ignite that light in other people’s lives. And it requires maybe just looking right into the eyes of that person who is right in front of us and recognizing that this is a person too with a deep personal story. What can we share with each other? How can we reach one another? And how can I help and be of service?
Everyone that is reading this can do that!!! Everyone has the power to offer something into this world! I have seen it and I believe it! And I am really impressed Greg that you are doing what you doing.
Greg: And that is my message too. Everyone has a genius, everyone has a purpose, a mission, a gift, something special that only they can give.
I can imagine that some people are reading this and saying, “Yes I do want that… but it seems so hard and so scary, it seems so vulnerable… so how do you actually do it?” How do you do it?
Melissa: You and I Greg are very devoted to education and I think that we can begin by reading. There are really no excuses for learning in today’s world. We can, with a click, from wherever we are sitting, whether in China or Costa Rica, we can become connected with the world that is outside of us. And I think educating ourselves, reading as much as we can, expanding and pushing ourselves (even if we are not going to move geographically) that we expose ourselves through learning. We expand our inner world! Even though we might not move over a country’s border, we expand our personal borders so that we become enlightened, educated, and sympathetic. And during this we might find something that really ignites our interest and that would fuel enough in us that we want to actually cross a border.
I’d wager that most people that are reading this have within a certain radius of where they are sitting, they have people that have different cultural backgrounds or a different mother tongue. You just have to get to know them. Reach out! It begins with a conversation or just a cup of tea. Bring someone to your table and learn from them.
Greg: Exactly! And be sincerely interested in them! We talked about focus, we talked about the way we choose to see things and people will affect our actions, our behaviors and our attitudes. It’s a simple mindset shift of seeing… and don’t objectify others, don’t see them as, “That” or some label. But think, “How can I connect with you? Where do we see things together? Where can we build a common base? I hope you’re feeling this! It’s all about connection.
Melissa: Connection like we have experienced here. Greg and I have never met before in person until about an hour ago, but here we are now and having this meaningful conversation that will resonate with us for a long time. It begins just with a conversation!
Greg: That’s perfect because I want to lead to this. All of us want to have meaning and purpose, we want to have mission. I feel extremely confident that at the end of our lives we will look back and ask something to the effect of, “Did I matter?” And that’s a bold and a powerful question! So in the context here, I would love to hear your thoughts… how do you make your life and help your children live meaningful lives? And I know it’s a big bold question! How do we live more meaningful lives? Because the foundation for all of it is meaning. It’s doing something that really matters.
Melissa: I’m not convinced that we human beings want happiness as much as we want meaning. Because for me, some of the most profound experiences of my life had very little to do with happiness. They have had to do with things that are deep and hard, that have been very meaningful. You asked at the beginning of this interview about our family. We have four children, three of whom are living. We lost our oldest child to a tragic accident a few years ago. The experiences of losing our Parker are unspeakably meaningful for me as a mother and for us as a family and they have defined us. We were not looking for happiness in those experiences and for a long time we could not define ourselves as happy people… but there was such meaning in taking this cataclysmic loss for us and translating it into meaning. “We can either let this cripple us and cause us to recoil in bitterness and cynicism from this world or in fear, that ‘Stuff like that can happen at any moment! At any moment my life could be taken from me.’ Or we can say, with this choice moment in mortality that we have, I will try and create meaning. I will try and translate loss and sorrow into looking for or creating meaning for other people.” And for me, like we were talking about in the beginning, it is looking for other people’s story of fear, loss, loneliness and need.
Everyone of us is going to experience some sort of loss! We don’t exit this life without experiencing loss. And it could be your very difficult upbringing Greg, leaving home and paving your own life at such a young age. Or it could be other people’s stories of loss in living with addiction, with sorrow, abandonment, and the little material losses that we can experience. I believe that human beings meet on their broken edges. Not on our laminated edges.
Greg: Not on the façade or on the mask, it’s on the broken edges! I love that! What a beautiful idea!
Melissa: And I think that is when we find meaning too. It limits our sense of isolation. You know we are all kind of broken and messed up in some ways, we have all had those moments that will have pounded our fists on the ground until they are bruised and we cried until we have popped the capillaries in our eyes. We’ve all have had some degree of loss and this is where we are going to meet together, and in this brief moment mortality We are going to try and help to heal one another and bring wholeness as a community to one another. I think that’s the best thing I can say during this interview.
Greg: You guys know that Worldschooling is not just the academics, not just the books, it’s this! This is special. These are the values that are so essential that a lot of people are missing! This is one powerful focus that I’m loving and experiencing here right now, of becoming your very best self.
So just to wrap up here, what do you feel is your mission? What’s your message? And I know you write and are a gifted writer…
Melissa: Well I am an author, but before that, I am a mother. And that’s why my book is called, “Global Mom.” It’s not, “Global Nomad” or, “Global Wanderer.” I’m a mother! And what I want to say to those of you who are so fortunate to be parents out there, is that this is where it begins, it really begins in the family! My experience is that we are hard on ourselves; we think that we are incapable sometimes, we think that we’ve messed it up… KEEP ON plugging on! There is nothing more valuable that anyone of us will do (those who are privileged to have children) than that real intimate… real connection that we have with our children. And how we will shape and leave an imprint on them forever. And how grateful they are for it even if they don’t verbalize it. I have felt in kind of a mystical way that our beautiful son, Parker, thanking me for having just done my very best to parent him in this crazy complicated world we have. Thanking for giving the best that I could. That would be in a nutshell what I want to say to viewers, that that parenting is more important than we could even possibly comprehend.
NOT TO GIVE UP.
Greg: Perfect! We are going to end with that. It is all about what we are doing inside the walls of our own home.
Melissa: It is absolutely is.
Greg: Thank you!
Melissa: Thank you Greg!
Visit Melissa’s Website Here
Get Melissa’s book, Global Mom, here.