Boo-tiful Books for Halloween
28 October 2011
Did a Dinosaur Drink this Water?
3 November 2011

Where in the world do you belong?

globe 2

Born in the U.S.A.; university in London; first job in Hong Kong; wedding in France; career on the computer. Welcome to the ordinary life of a Global Cosmopolitan, a new breed who find it difficult to answer questions such as ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where is my home?’

Today, Professor Emeritus of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, clinical psychologist, and author, Linda Brimm writes about how a six-month adventure became a life and a career in France.

When I left Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1973 for a six-month adventure in the South of France, I never imagined where this decision would take me. Nor did I envision how that decision would affect by identity and my life choices. My clinical and academic interest in understanding the impact of living internationally has its roots in my personal journey.

My personal narrative includes many opportunities for confronting the challenges and reaping the benefits of international mobility. The external facts give one story, while my internal journey has been a relatively silent story. It is the subtle, but important differences between the two that I addressed in my book.

Take Eric, a young man I interviewed for Global Cosmpolitans. Here he talks about his two selves:

“There is a deep divide between the young French student who went to the United States and the English-speaking professional I have become. I do have two sets of behaviors, two approaches to life, whether I function in French or in English.

The English-speaking Eric is confident and self-assured not only in what he can do but also among others, in society. He does not fear of what others think of him. He is self-aware and quite hard to destabilize.

The French Eric is less sure of himself. He is more on the defensive, more of an introvert, more aggressive sometimes. He knows what he can do as well and know his strengths, but his attitude is different.”

This generation of Global Cosmopolitans represents a cutting-edge population with a great deal to contribute to the global landscape and our understanding of it. As their professor, clinical psychologist or consultant, I have had the opportunity to listen and learn as people from various corners of the world shared their life stories. While each story was different, they enabled me to tell the larger story of Global Cosmopolitans.

I have been gathering material from life stories over the years; combining their fascinating stories, told in their own voices with a variety of useful concepts for understanding their unique experience. The frameworks and exercises contained in the book are also a useful approach for anyone expiring the excitement and anxieties of change in life conditions and personal identity.

For example, studying the phenomenon of Global Cosmopolitans, I have identified a set of five important characteristics that frequently develop. These characteristics are often overlooked in favour of the more visible signs of global experience, such as cultural mastery and language ability.  Significantly, none of these qualities requires an international context. What’s more, Global Cosmopolitans develop these qualities so subtly and naturally that many don’t even know they have them. These five characteristics combine to yield a Global Cosmopolitan identity.

1) Global Cosmopolitans see change as normal.

2) As outsiders to fixed cultural rules, they rely on creative thinking.

3) They reinvent themselves and experiment with new identities.

4) They are experts at the subtle and emotional aspects of transition.

5) They easily learn and use new ways of thinking.

People growing up in a single culture develop a filter by which to understand the world around them; their life story has a fixed center of shared wisdom and learned responses on which to build their identity. But Global Cosmopolitans develop a prism that yields kaleidoscopic perspectives. Their centre is a multifaceted collection of contradictions, often undefined. Much of their identity is built around their experiences with conflict, alternate belief systems and new ways of behaving around people very different from themselves. Through their stories, I try to provide a window into their complex world.

We look forward to welcoming Linda Brimm to the Library on Wednesday 9 November at 19h30. Her presentation on Global Cosmopolitans is free and open to the public.


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