Living in Liminality

This article by Bobby Schaetti was the original inspiration for my decision to embrace living in liminality. I was in touch with her briefly in 1998 when I first moved to the United States. I’m sharing those sections of her writing that touched me deeply here and directly inspired my one line bio.

Global nomads are persons of any age or nationality who have lived a
significant part of their developmental years in one or more countries
outside their passport country because of a parent’s occupation.
Children raised as global nomads can be the offspring of diplomatic,
international business, government agency, international agency,
missionary, or military personnel, or indeed of people living
internationally mobile lives for any professional reason. Typically,
global nomads share a unique cultural heritage.
As we have seen, global nomads make up a
population whose developmental years are marked by frequent geographic
transitions and multiple cultural influences. At the heart of this
experience is the social-psychological construct of "liminality." From
the Greek limnos, meaning "threshold," liminality describes an
in-between time when what was, is no longer, and what will be, is not
yet. It is a time rich with ambiguity, uncertainty, and the possibility
of creative fomentation. How does liminality serve as a connecting
thread in the global nomad experience, weaving its way through each of
the four central themes? And what particular advantages does living in
liminality offer?

Remember first that one of the
defining themes of the internationally mobile childhood is frequent
change. Consider, then, that for every experience of change—by their
own mobility or another’s— nomads experience a parallel process of
psychological transition.
When a person is in liminal space, he or she is on
the threshold, no longer part of the past and not yet part of the new
beginning. For many global nomads and their families, in particular for
multi-movers, the experience of liminal space becomes the most
constant, lived experience.

As with change and transition,
liminality also is intertwined closely with the global nomad themes of
relationships, world view, and cultural identity. For many
internationally mobile children and adolescents, relationships exist
primarily in liminal space. They and their friends are forever on the
threshold, simultaneously saying goodbye and hello, finding their own
precarious balance between getting close quickly while not getting too
close. At the same time, as members of multinational expatriate
communities, global nomads make friends across race, ethnicity, and
language. Their developing world views become balanced in liminality as
they learn through daily interaction that truth is contextually
relative. Liminality also weaves its way through the global nomad
experience of marginal identity. Indeed, cultural marginality is a
quintessentially liminal reality. Exposed to multiple cultural
traditions during their developmental years, global nomads have the
opportunity to achieve identities informed by all, constricted by none,
balanced on the thresholds of each. Liminality, then, is a construct
powerfully resonant for global nomads. Understanding it encourages them
to celebrate their marginality: It is not necessary to choose between
the United States or Kenya, between Japan or the United Kingdom. Living
in liminality encourages complex, multiplistic perspectives.
daily experiences persuade them to think in terms of "both/and" rather
than "either/or." Liminality reinforces that it is a blessing to be
able to "dance in-between," with a foot planted gently in each reality.

Liminality is the byword of a
self-reflexive human being. We all contain within ourselves multiple
intersecting identities—example, nationality, gender, sexual
orientation, ethnicity and race, physicality, native tongue,
profession. In any given moment, one of those identities may be more
relevant to us than others. At the same time, the identities in our
backgrounds continue to make up the whole of who we are. Liminality
reminds us to stand tall at the intersection of our multiple
identities, aware of our contradictions, and proud nonetheless to
acknowledge all the facets of who we are.
The world in which we live today is no longer easily defined by
"either/-or." The complexities of an interdependent human community
increasingly are calling us to experience the "both/and," and from that
place of ambiguity and uncertainty to find a sense of home in the

This entry was posted in Business, India/China/Asia, Personal. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Living in Liminality

  1. Perspective says:

    Terms defined: Liminality

    Liminality – A critical state of transition, which is wholly separate incharacter from the experiences that precede and follow The Oxford English Dictionary: (1) Liminal: ‘of or pertaining to thethreshold or initial stage of a process and specifically …

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