Expat Alien, My Global Adventures
By the time Kathleen was 18 she had lived on five continents. When she starts college in California, she experiences severe “reverse” culture shock. She talks about traveling around Europe, seeing the sites from London to Athens, hiking up Swiss mountains, and living in Africa. She survived a plane crash, a coup d’etat in Burma, earthquakes in Mexico, driving through the Andes in Columbia and army ants in Nigeria. Her college peers talk about football games, high school proms and television shows she never heard of. She can’t relate to them at all and they think she is bragging about all the places she has been. It is like an alien landed in their dorm room talking about visiting the rings of Saturn. Follow Kathleen on her journey through the ups and downs of being a Third Culture Kid.
For the next few weeks we will publish a few chapters of her book. We encourage you to purchase the entire book. You can get the paperback or digital format for Kindle, or the Nook from Amazon. and Barnes and Noble.
- Paperback edition sells for $15.95
- Kindle/Nook editions sell for $9.95
My parents met when they shared a ride back to college after Christmas break. My mother was not feeling well. My father thought she was probably hung over. If you knew my mother you would understand how absurd that sounds. He soon learned this was not the case. My mother didn’t drink. My father was dating a woman named Lois at the time and my mother knew it. She was not so very impressed with him.
However, my father pursued her and they became friends and enjoyed spending time together and did spend time together. After he joined the Navy and saw his friends start to get married, he thought it might be a good idea to marry. In 1943 he got appendicitis and had a few days of R&R. For some reason he thought that would be a good time to ask Virginia to marry him. He sent her a telegram asking her how quickly she could get a syphilis test. In those days you had to have one in order to get married. Luckily he followed up with a phone call and said he thought it might be a good idea if they got married. Amazingly she agreed. What a wacky woman! She had no idea what was in store for her.
During WW II, my father flew blimps off the coast of Brazil for the US Navy. These early experiences made him want to travel and work in other countries. Nine years after my parents married, my father went to work for the US Technical Cooperation Agency and he was assigned to the Burmese State Teacher Training College where he worked with students in agriculture. My parents and my two brothers who were 4 and 6 years old started their great expat adventure in 1952. Their friends and relatives thought they had lost their minds. This was before jet airplanes, email or a polio vaccine.
Six months after they arrived in Burma the US Technical Cooperation Agency was asked to leave the country. The Burmese government had a difference of opinion with the United State’s foreign policy. The USA was airlifting Chinese people and materials out of China to Taiwan over Burma’s air space without permission and in direct opposition to Burma’s request. Burma did not recognize Taiwan. TCA told my father he could continue working for the US Government in Thailand.
The Burmese Director of Education, U Kaung, had asked my father to start designing a curriculum for the two-year agricultural college they planned to open in Pyinmana to train vocational agriculture teachers to work in secondary schools and with agricultural extension workers. The Minister of Education and the Director of Education both made strong cases to the Burmese government and to TCA, to let my father stay on for the two years remaining on his contract, since the planning for the new agricultural college was at a critical stage and much would be lost if he had to leave. All parties agreed and he stayed on while the remainder of the team moved to Bangkok, Thailand.
In 1954, the Ford Foundation established an office in Rangoon. Since the TCA support was about to end, the Burmese Director of Education approached the Ford Foundation Representative, Dr. John Everton, to see if they would be interested in supporting the development of the Pyinmana Agricultural Institute. In January 1955, my father went to work for the Ford Foundation and my family moved to Pyinmana. It was the beginning of his successful career.
My father describes his first trip to Pyinmana:
“The trip to Pyinmana to look over the Old Case Farm School, which the Baptist missionaries had operated before World War II, was most interesting. Pyinmana is about 250 miles north of Rangoon and it took us 12 hours to make the trip so you can see the countryside was not blurred by our speed. It was a pretty ride for the rice fields were green and all plants were in their best stage of growth. For the first three or four hours, as you looked out from the train, rice fields extended as far as you could see. Occasionally there would be a yolk of oxen plowing an area getting ready for late transplanting of rice. The plowing is done when there is about a foot of water on the land so the man driving the oxen has a wet, slimy job.
Further north, we traveled through a wide valley with low mountain ranges on both sides. Rice was the main crop but some vegetables, sugar cane, chilies and millet began to appear. Then when we got about to Pyinmana, which is near the edge of the dry zone, we observed sugar cane as the main crop.
Before World War II, the farm school operated as an agricultural training location by the Baptist Mission with an American, Reverend Case, as director. The school was well recognized throughout Burma for the training it gave and many crops and livestock breeds had been named after Case. The school was most often referred to as “The Case School”. The site had 400 acres of good cropland, a large brick home for the director and two very substantial brick homes that had housed four American families. Also, there was a large, two-story brick dormitory, a large brick machinery building and a substantial classroom building. We all agreed that the school site was excellent for the Government’s purpose.
Pyinmana was an important railroad junction and the Japanese, during World War II, occupied the town. As a result the town took heavy bombing by the Allied Forces and was pretty much leveled. However, the officer who identified the bombing targets had been one of the American Missionaries at the Baptist School and he never selected any of the school buildings as targets, so they came through pretty much unscathed. However, the site had been abandoned for 10 years and during this period much of the woodwork and windows had been stripped from the buildings.
After World War II, the Baptists tried to reopen the school but due to insurgency in the area had to abandon the idea. The Burmese government decided to appropriate the school site.
While in Pyinmana, we called on several government officials and I can still vividly recall our visit to the office of the District Commissioner. It was very warm at that time of the year and electricity had not yet been restored to Pyinmana. The commissioner’s office had a large fixed piece of bamboo and cloth about 5 feet long that hung over his desk. In another room, an Indian laborer pumped on a swing that had a rope attached to the fixed piece over the desk and he moved this back and forth as a fan. Such fans, or “Punkas” were very common throughout India and Burma during Colonial and early Independence days. We stayed at the home of the Headmaster of the secondary school, U Ba Chit, for two nights and then had our special rail car attached to the train. We returned to Rangoon to make our report and were given the go ahead on planning for the institute.”
Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on Amazon.com. You can also follow her blog at ExpatAlien.com.