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Growing up as a child in a foreign society seminar held

By Rachael Williams

Cross-cultural specialist Michael Gates spoke at a seminar in Vienna last night in support of the UNESCO International Day of Tolerance.

The International Day for Tolerance is an annual observance declared by UNESCO to generate public awareness of the dangers of intolerance. At the focus of this particular seminar were children growing up between cultures, or "third culture kids".

Third culture kid (TCK, 3CK) is a term coined in the early 1950s by American sociologist and anthropologist Ruth Hill Useem "to refer to the children who accompany their parents into another society".

The seminar was a truly multi-national affair hosted at the Korea Kulturhaus by Vienna's International Christian School and organised by students from  FH Wien University of Applied Sciences of  the WKW, many of whom were international students experiencing life between cultures first-hand.

Speaking alongside Mr Gates was Ambassador of the Republic of Korea Cho Hyun and Ambassador of South Africa Xolisa Mfundiso Mabhongo.

Mr Mabhongo opened the seminar by echoing the words of Martin Luther King: "We did not come over on the same ship but we're all in the same boat". His speech drew particular emphasis to the importance of self-awareness as well as tolerance of differences in today's globalised society. He told the audience which was mainly made up of parents of ICSV students that it was the responsibility of the school community to nurture, mould and build children into models of goodness.

Like Mr Mabhongo, Mr Hyun also told of his own experiences and stated that openness is the key to understanding. He spoke about the changing attitudes of Koreans worldwide and the country's transition from homogeneity following its loss of sovereignty. In recent times, more Koreans are choosing to study or live abroad and Mr Hyun commended the 2,000 Koreans living in Austria, 700 of which are students.

The event's main speaker, Michael Gates, then explored the title of the seminar in context and explained the challenges faced by third culture kids. He told parents: "Our children are international nomads – the next generation – who will help others navigate the globalised world". His speech drew on his own upbringing and also the experiences of his five children all of whom are third culture kids and identifying with different parts of their heritage. He called on teachers and parents of the ICSV to balance the similarities and differences between cultures and encouraged the audience to openly discuss their thoughts and experiences.

Before the speakers, the audience were treated to a traditional Korean instrumental performance and appetisers provided by sponsor Akakiko. African art from Vienna's Galerie Benedict adorned the walls of the venue and a permanent display in the main room honoured the Austrian-born First Lady of South Korea Franziska Donner.

The venue itself is a feat of Vienna's Korean community who pushed for the renovation of the property, which had been derelict for three decades and raised the 1.5 million euros necessary for the work. The new Korea Kulturhaus opened in February 2012 in Vienna's Donaupark.

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