I was introduced to The Global Mom Show podcast last year and immediately fell in love. I never knew that there were other women out there who like me, identified as a “global mom” even though they didn’t always reside in the U.S. These were women that through some series of life events found themselves deeply moved by a cross cultural experience that now influenced the way they navigated the world and subsequently raised their children.
I quickly began chatting with Mary Grace, the host and founder of The Global Mom Show, through her site’s voicemail system and later had a chance to “meet” her virtually. We quickly hit it off and began to dive deep into our thoughts and feelings about living around the world, raising kids who value diversity, and simply what it’s like to run a business while also trying to stay present with our families.
I have so loved these last few months of getting to know Mary Grace and sharing her podcasts with you guys through my monthly email newsletter. Each month the interviews and topics just get better and better and touch my heart even more. I especially love the podcast where she shares her personal story of re-entry after returning from living overseas. I was also deeply moved by her interview with Lucretia Berry of Brownicity. Mary Grace has launched a Facebook Group for us global moms and global-moms-to-be to connect. Which you can join here.
But I think you ladies will find the most recent episode super exciting because… I got to sit down with Mary Grace and The Global Mom Show listeners and share my personal story as a Third Culture Kid turned Global Mom! It was so much fun getting to share my philosophy on motherhood and living a global life. Check it out here and tell me what you think! You can either leave a comment below or message me over on Instagram.
And of course, I had to have her come over to #AGlobalTribeOfWomen and tell her story so you ladies could meet her as well. So without further ado here’s my interview with Mary Grace Otis.
AM: Please introduce yourself to A Global Tribe of Women.
MGO: Hi Tribe! My name is Mary Grace Otis. I’m a wife, a mom of three boys, a former expat and development worker, and a freelance writer for businesses and nonprofits. I’ve lived in three countries, seven U.S. states, and 11 cities. I’ve also traveled to lots of places besides that, but now I make my home in the U.S., where one of my goals is to stay connected to a global view of life. I also host The Global Mom Show podcast, where I interview moms around the world about how they live and teach their kids to live global lives regardless of where they live.
AM: Please share about your educational background and your original goals for working and living abroad.
MGO: I have a bachelor’s degree in German (minor in journalism) from Samford University and a master’s degree in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management from the SIT Graduate Institute. I first went abroad in high school, and knew then that I wanted to return to Germany at some point in college. I did a semester study abroad at the University of Heidelberg during my junior year, and wanted so badly to stay in Germany at that time, but needed to come home for one more semester to finish college. After college, I found a job at a magazine and focused on honing my journalism skills, but all the while I was longing to return to Europe.
In 2001, I discovered a Fulbright fellowship that was for journalists who wanted to study/work in Germany—it seemed like a perfect fit. I was accepted into the program and spent 2001-2002 in Erfurt and Hamburg writing and interning at various German news publications. My hope was to get more experience in journalism and eventually return to the U.S. to work as a journalist, but I soon realized this was not the ideal for me. It was just after 9/11, and I was spending hours a day reading newspapers and hearing about war and bombings and politics. I decided that I wanted to do something more hands on, and so I started thinking of ways to get involved with nonprofit work.
After some time, I had an opportunity to work with a nonprofit in India, doing writing, fundraising, and event planning, and that was a great fit for me.
AM: How long did you live in Germany? What were you doing there?
MGO: In total, I probably lived in Germany about 2-3 years. But it was over several years’ time, so that time period looms larger in my life. In high school we did a month-long exchange program between my German class and another German class in Hamburg. (And I’m still friends with that family today). In college, I was studying and getting credits towards my German major. After college, I was at the University of Erfurt where I took some classes and wrote a weekly column for the local German newspaper. Then I moved to Hamburg and did internships at two major German publications. I also lived for a while with a former foreign exchange student who lived near Hannover. So, I was kind of all over the place!
AM: What elements of German life and culture made the biggest impact on you? Do any elements of German living influence your current life?
MGO: My time in Germany impacted me in many ways. One is of course through language. My German language skill and understanding really grew through immersion in high school, and then more as a college student and intern. Learning another language can make you feel crazy and isolated but it can also make you feel aware and connected. As you learn more, you realize the nuances that you missed earlier, and you realize the nuances that you still don’t understand. Even though I haven’t lived in Germany in over 10 years, I still have to catch myself at times from speaking German with a friend who doesn’t know German! My husband and I both speak German, and often will have partial conversations in German and English. It is nice to be able to say the word that is on your tongue that perhaps explains a concept better than an English word.
I also appreciate the German emphasis on good friendships. It may take a while to make friends in Germany, but when you do, they truly do support you and remain your friends for years to come.
Germans also really value the environment. They consider recycling an absolute must, and have embedded easy ways to recycle into everyday society. So, whenever I’m tempted just to throw something away because it’s easier than going to the trouble of recycling it, I honestly think back to my German dorm that had three different bags for three different types of waste, and I think “I can do this, this is not hard.”
German’s have a wonderful tradition of taking a break in the afternoon to have either tea time or Kafee und Kuchen (coffee and cake). This little ritual gives a nice pause to the day and is a time to visit with friends or family and enjoy something delicious. The assortment of teas, coffees, and cakes is always delightful.
There is of course so much more. In general my time in Germany helped me understand that the world was a multi-faceted place, that everyone has a unique story and place in the world, and that I could navigate the realms of culture, language, and experience as a multi-faceted individual.
AM: How long did you live in India?
MGO: I first went to India for two months. And I loved it. I just had to go back. So a few weeks later, I raised enough money to return and work with a nonprofit there—proVISION ASIA. I ended up staying for two years and working in various capacities of communications, fundraising, and programming. This work led me to want to study more about international development, so I returned to the U.S. to get my master’s degree. After completing the coursework, I went back to India to do my field work in monitoring and evaluation, and to write my thesis. During that time I continued to work for proVISION.
AM: What elements of Indian life and culture made the biggest impact on you? Do any elements of Indian life influence your current life?
MGO: Seriously. People say you either hate India or you love it. I loved it.
The crazy traffic, the colorful buildings, the beautiful saris, the food—oh, the food. It was all sensual overload for me, but it was wonderful.
My friends and colleagues there taught me so much about being flexible, going with the flow, making things happen in spite of circumstances, embracing challenges, fighting adversity, caring for others, offering hospitality, and so much more.
I guess I’m one of those people that really immerses myself in a culture. When I was in Germany, I thought I would live there forever, and when I was in India, I thought I would live there forever. When I move somewhere, I observe everything and seek to understand all the little things that make a culture tick. Of course, every culture is full of individuals, so some things cannot be assigned to culture, but there are some overarching themes that run through the culture. One perception I have of India is that celebrations are highly valued. Whether it is a wedding, a birthday, a naming ceremony, a national holiday, a religious holiday, or an anniversary, all are occasions for sharing sweets, hosting meals, inviting strangers in, offering generous gifts to others, and on and on.
Beauty is also valued there. Even the garbage trucks are painted with beautiful flowers. Women create colorful chalk designs (Rangoli) on the concrete walkways outside of their homes. Little girls dress in the most beautifully woven dresses, and fabrics are still handmade with utmost care. The artisanship throughout the country has a long and vibrant history, and is evidenced in clay work, folk art, fabric design, weaving and tapestry, paintings, architecture, and more. Flower garlands grace heads and necks and tables. The musical history is rich and varied. Dance is intricate and elegant and rhythmic.
The Indians I know and love are so welcoming, they would give you the coat off their back, the drink out of their hand, or the picture off of their wall.
They went out of their way to make me feel at home and to take care of me, and I truly was blessed to be a part of that community of friends in Bangalore.
Coming back to the states after living in India for several years was a complete shock to my system. I truly grieved the loss of my life there—while simultaneously trying to enjoy the building of a new life here. It was such a difficult transition, that it was hard for me to incorporate much from my time there into my everyday life—it just felt too difficult, too sad. Now that time has passed, and I have adapted to the culture here and created a vibrant life here filled with family and friendships, incorporating some of the things I learned in India into my everyday life is easier. I’m not sure if that makes any sense to someone who has not lived abroad, but it was almost like I had to give myself some distance before I could revisit my time there.
One way living there impacted me is the simple fact that I continue to be in touch with friends there and to support the work at proVISION ASIA, an organization I care so much about.
NOTE: proVISION ASIA is a disability services organization in Bangalore, India. They provide job training and placement services for people with disabilities, offer a school for children, provide mobility aids, physical therapy, computer training, and medical assitance, and more. Many of the staff of the organization are people with disabilities themselves, and they lead in determining the needs and goals that the organization should focus on. I worked to help coordinate wheelchair distributions for hundreds of people who had never had a wheelchair before. I also helped to secure grants for mobility aids and job training. It was an amazing opportunity for me to work alongside people who have been marginalized in their community, and who desire something better for themselves and their families. The whole experience was a privilege, and I am still very devoted to disability rights and to breaking down stigmas related to disabilities.
AM: How did you and your husband meet?
MGO: When I was studying in Vermont, a friend of mine mentioned that her brother was going to be traveling through Albania, which was where my parents were living at the time. She was concerned that he might not have a contact there and asked if I could write him and connect him with my parents in case he had any problems while he was traveling. She also mentioned that we had some common interests (we liked some of the same authors, he also spoke German and grew up in Germany). So, I wrote him and gave him my parents’ phone number and address in case he needed anything while there.
He never called them, but he and I began to email, and he told me about his trip (he was also in Prague for a while getting an ESL teaching certificate). We started emailing more and more often, and six months later, we met for 30 minutes in Chicago O’Hare Airport when I had a layover on my way to India. The next time we met was about six months later, when he met me in Thailand when I was getting my visa renewed. We were married about nine months after that. It was fast! And that friend who introduced us is now, obviously, my sister in law.
NOTE: Mary Grace’s husband Andrew is a phenomenal potter who draws on his Japanese heritage in creating large vessels shaped like Kimonos. These vessels range in height from three to six feet. He works alongside his family at Otis Pottery in northern Michigan. I have included a few photos of his studio space and pieces.
So ladies, if you’re anything like me you’re holding back tears right now and dreaming of what life was like living in both Germany and India, fully immersed. Mary Grace’s story is just so magical, heart wrenching, and romantic!!
I can’t wait to share Part 2 of her interview with you! We dive deeper into what it was like for her to transition back to the states and how she launched her amazing podcast, The Global Mom Show.
If you’d like to connect with Mary Grace and The Global Mom Show community, head on over to Facebook and join The Global Moms Network, which is a place for like-minded moms to connect, ask questions, and share resources. You can also check out her past podcast guests on Instagram and her website.
I can’t wait to hear from you. Please leave a comment below. I always reply!!!
All photos courtesy of Mary Grace Otis.