Growing Up Global: Novels and Memoirs of Transnational Childhoods Course

What if you grew up with a passport from one country, a face from another continent, an accent from yet another, and live somewhere related to none of them? What if you moved constantly because your parents were diplomats, missionaries, or in the military? What if the real answer to the question “Where are you from?” or “Where did you grow up?” is so complicated that you tend to give a convenient rather than honest answer? What if you experience culture shock not on going to a foreign country but on returning to the country that is ostensibly your “home”?

In this course, we will explores narratives of youthful cultural and linguistic adaptation by those who have spent their childhood crossing national boundaries, including global nomads or repatriates (those who grew up in several countries outside their parents’ country of origin, some of who return to that country as teenagers or adults), hidden immigrants (foreigners who look or speak like the majority population), binational children (those with parents from different nations and/or ethnicities), teen immigrants (those who moved to a new country while teenagers), and study abroad students (those who spent a year abroad in high school or college). Some topics of discussion will be how the narrators construct meaningful identities and produce a sense of belonging or alienation through narrative; how they negotiate the intricacies of language, culture, family, and place; what role reading plays in their lives; and whether their books share any common metaphors about marginality, transition, ambivalence, or adaptability.

Primary Texts

Faith Eidse & Nina Sichel’s Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global (2004)

Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (2004)

Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language (1989)

Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese (2006)

Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

Kingsolver, Barbara The Poisonwood Bible (1998)

Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007)​

Alternative Memoirs

  • Alhadeff, Gini The Sun at Midday (growing up in Egypt, the Sudan, Italy, and Japan)
  • Allende, Isabel Paula (growing up in Chile, Bolivia, and Lebanon)
  • Allingham, George E. Growing Up In Khaki: Life as a Service Brat (growing up on American military bases, humorous)
  • Arana, Marie American Chica (about growing up multicultural in Peru and the US)
  • Bahrampour, Tara To See and See Again: A Life in Iran and America (growing up multicultural in Iran and California)
  • Bell-Villada, Gene Overseas American: Growing Up Gringo in the Tropics (growing up multicultural in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Cuba)
  • Blaise, Clark Resident Alien (growing up multicultural in Canada and the US)
  • Choi, Susan The Foreign Student (1998)
  • Coleman, Daniel The Scent of Eucalyptus: A Missionary Childhood in Ethiopia (growing up American in Ethiopia)
  • Espy, John Minor Heresies, Major Departures: A China Mission Boyhood (growing up British in China)
  • Fuentes, Carlos Myself with Others (growing up Mexican in US and Latin America)
  • Fuller, Alexandra Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood (2003) (about growing up white in Zimbabwe)
  • Furiya, Linda Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America (2006)
  • Godwin, Peter Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa (growing up American in then Rhodesia)
  • Haile, Rebecca Held at a Distance: My Rediscovery of Ethiopia (growing up as an Ethiopian American)
  • Lively, Penelope Oleander, Jacaranda: A Childhood Perceived (growing up in Egypt, Palestine, and Sudan in the 1930s and 1940s)
  • May-lee Chai Hapa Girl: A Memoir (growing up Irish-Chinese American in South Dakota)
  • Orr, Elaine Neil Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life (growing up as an American in Nigeria)
  • Osammor, Stella Ify Silhouettes of a Treasured Heritage (growing up biracial in Britain, Ghana, and the US)
  • Said, Edward Out of Place (growing up in Egypt and Princeton)
  • Stavans, Ilan On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language (growing up Eastern European and Jewish in Mexico)
  • Taber, Sara Mansfield Of Many Lands: Journal of a Traveling Childhood (growing up American in Asia)
  • Norma E. Cantú’s Paths to Discovery: Autobiographies from Chicanas with Careers in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering (2008)
  • Alice Kaplan’s French Lessons (1994)

Alternative Novels

  • Drew, Eileen Blue Taxis: Stories about Africa (about growing up American in West Africa)
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo When We Were Orphans (growing up in early-twentieth century Britain and China)
  • Ballard, J. G. Empire of the Sun (growing up British in a Shanghai WW II prison camp)
  • Kurtz, Jane Jakarta Missing (young adults novel, about moving back to the US after growing up in Indonesia)


The Traumatizing Gift: A Global Childhood Talk by Saeko Mizuta at TEDx Fullbright Tokyo

Say It Right” by Hiwot Adilow at Brave New Voices 2012

Featured in Princeton Weekly Bulletin November 3-9, 2008.