Welcome!

**Note: I am working on redesigning my website over the (northern hemisphere) summer, so please excuse any hiccups in the process!**

reading.jpgWelcome!

My name is Tanya Crossman and I am the author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century. I am now returning to more regular blogging after a hiatus while going through a lot of transitions in all areas of my life – perhaps appropriate for someone who writes and speaks about transition a lot!

On this blog I discuss different aspects of international life, with a focus on children and young people: how they feel about, and are shaped by, their global experiences.

Perhaps you have come here hoping to learn more about raising children internationally, or teaching such children. Perhaps you were raised overseas yourself. Perhaps you have read Misunderstood and want to know more. In each case, a good place to start would be my post on Third Culture Kids, which lays a foundation for a lot of what is discussed here.

However you found your way to this blog, I’m glad you’re here. I would love to hear from you, hear your story, and your questions. We’re all learning, and we all have something helpful to contribute. Please add your voice to the conversation!

Tanya Crossman
Beijing, 2018

I’m going to FIGT 2019 – are you?

I’ve written before about my excitement that the annual Families In Global Transition conference is coming to Asia for the first time in 2019! Registration is now open, with early-bird pricing for the next week (until the end of January). Have you thought about coming? You should! Click here to register!

figt-earlybird

I am already registered to attend, plus I will be presenting twice during the conference – an early bird session looking at cross-cultural education, and a lightning session (a short talk to the whole conference) about our relationships with geographical locations.

I would love to see many of my friends and readers and other connections in the international world make it to FIGT 2019! It’s an incredible event, very much worth your time. In my previous post I gave this list of reasons why:

  • Fantastic resources – great speakers, great books in the bookstore, and lots of great brains to pick.
  • Solid research – there are always researchers presenting fascinating recent work on expatriates and Third Culture Kids.
  • Relational opportunities – there are so many wonderful people at FIGT. It is one of the warmest groups I have ever walked into. It’s so intimidating to walk into a conference knowing no one, but FIGT makes it so much easier!! There are big sessions and very small sessions, so there are ample opportunities to meet different people throughout the three days.
  • Real answers – if you have a question about global mobility and international life, how it affects you, your family, your organisation – this is the place to come.
  • Inspiration – when a group of people like this gets together, there is a sense of energy and momentum, lots of new ideas and new projects sparked. (This was very true for me in 2017!)

Now there is more specific information about the 2019 conference available! You can see the draft schedule on the FIGT website. Here are some highlights:

Newcomers

A special welcome breakfast on the first morning for anyone attending their first FIGT conference. If you’ve never been before this is a GREAT reason to come this year! It’s a fantastic opportunity to hit the ground running and get the most out of the conference.

Presentations

There is a wide range of presentations at FIGT – long and short, serious and light-hearted, covering a wide range of topics that affect cross-cultural families. A list of the sessions available is on the FIGT website, along with a short synopsis of each session and biographies of the presenters. (Yep, I’m in there!)

Some presentations are made to the whole group, specifically the keynote sessions (still to be announced); Panel Discussions, which bring together a group of speakers; and Lightning Sessions – a series of 6 minute talks on a wide range of topics. My lightning session is titled: “Falling in Love, Breaking Up, and Everything in Between: Our Relationships with Place”. You can read the full synopsis on the Lightning Session page.

Through most of the conference you can choose from a wide range of topics being offered simultaneously. There is SO MUCH great content this year it’s going to be really hard to choose! Early Bird Forums happen first thing in the morning, with a 1.5 hour mix of presented material and group discussion. Concurrent Sessions are hour long presentations. Kitchen Table Conversations are 45 minute long discussions.

A new type of presentation is Posters – a visual presentation of a subject. There will also be a Q&A time with the poster presenters during the conference.

Research

There is always fascinating current research into expat and TCK issues being presented. This year includes eight researchers are presenting their current research in three sessions: Current Research on Asian TCKs and CCKs, Current Research on ATCKs’ Educational and Career Choices, and Current Research on Expat Adjustment Abroad and Repatriating. These presentations traverse a wide diversity of cultures — samples representing diverse cultures plus studies focused on Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Israel. I am always encouraged by the increase in research from a variety of angles.

And don’t forget the bookstore, full of fantastic resources (including Misunderstood!) and opportunities to have your book(s) signed by their authors! I will certainly be available to sign copies of Misunderstood, and many other authors will be there, too.

Convinced yet?? Click here to register! I really hope to see many of you there.

 

Recommended Reading catchup: September-October 2018

I am starting a series of Recommended Reading catchup posts. While I was sick, I was still finding headlines and skimming articles related to TCKs and expat life, but didn’t have the energy to really read them, let alone prepare them to share with you. I ended up with a long list of links that I didn’t want to abandon but also hadn’t shared in a timely manner. I went back and sorted them by when they were first posted, and I’m going through them month by month. I’m starting out with a few posts from September and October 2018 that I discovered too late to include in the Recommended Reading posts I wrote before getting sick.

It’s ‘never too late’ for parenting advice, study says
BBC
Okay, so this isn’t expat specific, but I think there’s good news here for every single expat parent who is concerned about things they *should* have known or done when their children were smaller. “The research says it’s time to stop focusing on when to intervene with parenting skills, and step in to help children in need of all ages.” Whatever age your child is, learning more about the TCK perspective, and making adjustments accordingly, can be incredibly helpful!

From Stateless to Citizen
Hiraeth Magazine
TCKs (and often expats) can feel the pain of having no legal recognition in the place that feels like home, but how much deeper is the pain and impact – emotionally, legally, and in every aspect of life – of having NO place that legally recognises you? This piece tells the story of Mamoun, who was born stateless as a Palestinian refugee in Syria. It follows his journey to gain citizenship in the Netherlands for himself, and his family. The post links to a fundraiser which is now closed, but was successful in funding his application for Dutch citizenship. There is also a video interview with Mamoun.
“[Mamoun spent] almost 40 years without even the hope of a chance to become a citizen. Being stateless affected his ability to work and to travel. It made him feel like someone from another planet, belonging nowhere. He worried for his children’s future as stateless persons. It was a tenuous existence. . .Not only will Dutch citizenship give him a permanent right to stay, work, and build a life in his adopted country, it is also the cumulation of his lifetime dream to be a citizen, to have a passport, to truly belong in a place he can call home.”

5 Ways How Living Abroad Helps Increase Creativity
Global Living Magazine
In this piece Nepalese jewellery designer Kajal Naina explains some of the ways that living overseas has widened her experience and perspective, and how this has translated into deeper creativity as an artist.
“Having walked through the stories and atmosphere of both countries, I can pull pieces from them both and marry them in a way they couldn’t otherwise co-exist. . .Design that transcends borders speaks to people and connects them. In the example of bringing Japanese and Indian design together, you have to wonder how the two cultures would react to seeing it.”

Thriving in Your Expat Life
Global Living Magazine
And here’s another piece from Global Living. This one is a simple list of things to keep in mind when preparing to move abroad, and while adjusting. This is good, solid advice – both for new expats who don’t know what to expect, and good as a reminder to those of us who can get a little world (literally) weary. I particularly appreciated point three:
“Keep expectations real: No-one moves abroad and fits in immediately. Making friends, setting up new routines and embarking on a different career will challenge you.”

Expat friends and always saying goodbye
The Expat Mummy
This is a great post about the underlying nature of expatriate friendships – why they are great, how they’re different, and their inherent challenges. The list of questions we ask ourselves – is it worth it? Should I invest less? Altogether a sweet and helpful read.
“A expat life is invariably a fluid thing, a transient state. By their very nature people that move abroad to start a new life are open to new experiences. More often than not those experiences mean moving country again. Expats are a nomadic group, a collective of travellers.”

The Tricky Allure of Becoming a Black American Expatriate
The Atlantic
This is a powerful piece. I really appreciate the way author Kimberly Springer articulates her journey as a black American expatriate, and her experience and understanding of racism both at home and abroad. There is a lot to learn here, an important perspective to listen to. She also demonstrates how living in another place affects perception – both providing escape and also fondness through nostalgia, plus new information, and a new lens through which to view both past and present.
“Feeling free from the metaphorical shackles of American racism has lasting value. Yet, being a black expat, one who’s attuned to American racial suffering, can merely heighten one’s awareness of other colonialist histories around the world and the racial disparities that persist because of them — a far cry from actually escaping racism. Living abroad can mean becoming one’s full self and being more deeply engaged with black struggle throughout the diaspora.”

My Very Personal Taste of Racism Abroad
The New York Times
In this piece, another African American woman talks about her experiences of racism abroad. I think it’s helpful to include these two articles together – the previous one talking more about general institutional racism, and this more personal piece. Racism is a multi-faceted issue, and there are so many different experiences of it (which this piece also mentions).
“During orientation, the Italian instructors talked about customs and other important practices to take note of. What I remember most is one woman from the program telling us to be mindful that Italians can be “bold” or “politically incorrect.” That was one way to put it. No one mentioned the possibility of racial encounters and tensions, largely aimed at the rising number of African immigrants.”

The Three Cultures of a Third Culture Kids – a popular post!

I’ve explained before that I’m easing back into blogging regularly following an extended hiatus for health reasons. I said I’d be highlighting some posts that people interacted with a lot in 2018, but I’m actually starting with a post I wrote for another blog!

I wrote a series of three short posts for China Source outlining some of the basics about what it means to be a Third Culture Kid. The first of these posts was titled The Three Cultures of a Third Culture Kid – and it became one of the the top ten most read posts on the site in 2018! (It’s number four on their list.)

I think part of the reason this post resonated widely is that so many people are confused about what the “three cultures” are. In short, it’s three types of cultural influence – not a count of how many countries you’re connected to, or a combination of a passport country and a host country.

The article also includes a few short excerpts from Misunderstood – quotes from TCKs I interviewed, sharing about their connections to home, country, culture. Personal stories are always powerful. I’ve always believed one of the greatest strengths of Misunderstood is that it draws upon personal stories shared with me by hundreds of TCKs.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

But having a passport isn’t the same as having experiential connections. The experience of growing up in places where I do not have legal recognition has an emotional impact. The country I legally belong to doesn’t completely feel like home, but I am not accepted by the country that does feel like home.

Singapore has always been very foreign to me, but when people asked where I was from, I replied: “Singapore.” It was a reflex. In high school, when people asked where I was from, I still said Singapore, but I knew it simply meant the country printed on my passport.

Stephanie

Read the full post on China Source

Recommended listening

I’m not quite ready to jump into Recommended Reading reviews just yet, but I was recently interviewed on a podcast which I’m going to recommend to you. So I also made a list of a few different podcasts I’ve appeared on in the past year or so as some recommended listening until I return to a regular schedule of Recommended Reading.

Migratory Patterns

I recently had a great conversation with Mike Shaw for the Migratory Patterns podcast. We talked about a lot of things, but particularly focusing on Third Culture life, both for kids and adults. I also explained a little about my current research, and why I’m preparing to write a book for twenty-something TCKs.

“Most of my interviews were with twenty-somethings and so I was really into these issues and aware of it and it was informing everything that went into Misunderstood. I was talking about their childhood experiences from that perspective of looking back on them… But what happens for a lot of those kids is they get to university and it’s like they walk off the cliff. There’s no support for what they go through, because their process of growing into adulthood looks really different. They’re juggling all these different cultural inputs, these different attachments, so their identity formation takes a lot longer. Not because they’re behind but just because they have a lot more information to process. The decision of how to work out what you want to do with your life is a lot harder when you have way more options. When your idea of what success is – you’re not even sure what you think, because the answer for you has always changed depending on who you’re talking to. When you now have to decide for yourself, when it’s not “my environment is determining for me”. Where I have to, as an adult, make my own independent decision. That’s a new skill.”

Click here to listen to my conversation with Mike

Mo Sibyl

Podcaster Mo Sibyl is a Nigerian academic in the US with an interest in Korean culture – among other things! I really enjoyed talking with her – we turned out to have many shared interests, including a love of language and statistics! At one point she said: “This is now a conversation between two language nerds!

What I appreciated most was how she got me talking about my work. She asked different questions from interesting angles, eliciting interesting responses from me in return. Even if you know me well, have talked to me about what I do, there’s probably something new in this. Here’s a few excerpts:

A lot of what I do is translating the TCK experience… Articulating things that they aren’t able to… Because of what they’ve been through, this is how they see the world, and here are some ways we can support them and understand them better. . .Over ten years I developed a set of tools that work. So now what I’m doing is sharing with parents and teachers the tools I developed on the ground.”

Click here to listen to my conversation with Mo

Go Ye There

The first podcast I was invited to speak on happened while I was still in Australia completing my studies. It is a podcast by/for missionaries, but our conversation is a great primer for anyone raising kids overseas. We go through the basics of the TCK experience – what “TCK” means, what the Third Culture is, how growing up overseas shapes a child’s worldview, and more.

“All expats live in the Third Culture, but adults and children experience it very differently. Adults are viewing their international experience through the worldview shaped by their own childhood. Whereas a a TCK’s worldview is shaped by an international childhood. And this determines how they view the rest of the world, including their home country. When you grow up with more than one culture as a child, it affects the way you understand life, and the world, and yourself… Your kids might not be “struggling” as such, but they’re absolutely affected, because childhood experiences shape who we are.”

Click here to listen to my interview on the TCK basics

TCK Summit

I recorded a ten minute talk for The Change School‘s TCK Summit shortly after Misunderstood was first released. The TCK Summit is a series of short talks hosted on youtube discussing different aspects of cross-cultural life, especially as it affects TCKs. The month I contributed to was themed “Cultivating the Mind”. Two areas The Change School focuses on are “developing a Global Mindset” and lifelong learning, so my talk included what this looked liked for me.

The core of my talk was about connection to multiple cultures, and why this requires cultivation of mind. There is stress attached to navigating differing cultural expectations, which can dim mental clarity. This is something that came out in a number of my interviews for Misunderstood – TCKs faced with the need to make a decision about the future often experienced anxiety they needed tools to work through.

“The influence of multiple cultures can be quite stressful at times. If you are influenced by two cultural systems that means double the information to take in, double the social rules to learn, double the means of communication to master, double the values to internalise… Knowing yourself deeply, consciously processing emotion, acknowledging difficulties, creating mental space – these are all strategies that make it easier for each of us to grow through our engagement with multiple cultures rather than become overwhelmed by all the noise.”

Watch my TCK Summit talk on youtube

That’s it for today! I hope to be back with some Recommended Reading catch up next week.

Some initial results from my survey of ATCKs – and how you can help!

I’ve written before about my new project for twenty-something TCKs, and the survey I launched as a starting place for looking into issues that affect them.

I had to put my research on hold for a few months due to illness BUT the good news is that means I’m still looking for more ATCKs to complete my initial survey! If you lived overseas as a child and are now an adult (especially if you are between 30-50 years old!) I would LOVE to have your input. Please do share this around with anyone you know who might be interested.

Click here to go to the survey

300 ATCKs have completed the survey, and over 100 have indicated a willingness to be interviewed. So far there are 55 different passport countries and 134 countries of residence represented. All of this is really exciting!!

Are all your countries represented? I’ve included the full list of countries below – take a look and see!

I’m also going to share with you a few inital results from the survey – the story so far. The survey is still open and so these results may shift, especially if the demographics of participants evens out. Currently there are more females than males, more under 30s than over 30s, and more missionary kids than other demographics. So, with the understanding that these are very provisional results, here are a few statistics from the survey so far:

  • 46% lived 10 or more years of childhood outside their legal culture/s.
  • 20% lived in four or more countries before age 18.
  • 32% currently hold legal status (passport or permanent residency) in two or more countries.
  • 43% have given up legal status (passport or permanent residency) they previously held.

A lot of this survey asks which issues are/were a struggle, to help me understand what issues and information will be most helpful to discuss in a book for twenty-somethings. Here are a few of the issues that many ATCKs are responding to:

  • 80% have struggled with maintaining friendships long-distance.
  • 73% have struggled to find a sense of belonging in their passport countries.
  • 72% have struggled with putting down roots.
  • 70% have struggled with a fear of connecting and then leaving/being left.
  • 69% have struggled with making a place “home”.

I also asked questions about mental health and support services. This is something I get a LOT of questions about, and I want to make sure the new book has solid and helpful information. This is a simple survey based on self-reporting, but the statistics on how mental health issues have affected ATCKs are still worth paying attention to:

  • 78% report being affected by unresolved grief.
  • 76% report being affected by anxiety.
  • 70% report being affected by depression.
  • 26% report being affected by self-harm.
  • 14% report being affected by substance abuse.
  • 36% have never received any type of mental health support.

Finally, here is the long list of countries represented by the 300 people who have completed the survey so far! Are all yours here?

55 Legal Cultures
These are the countries survey participants have/had a passport from or legal permanent residency in.
Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Côte D’Ivoire, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Senegal, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.

134 Geographic Cultures
These are the countries survey participants have lived in. 123 of these were childhood homes! (This list includes 10 territories*; I include them as they are geographically/culturally very different to their governing nations.)
Afghanistan, Akrotiri and Dhekelia*, Albania, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Aruba*, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cayman Islands*, Central African Republic, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo (Rep), Congo (DRC), Costa Rica, Côte D’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Hong Kong*, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao*, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norfolk Island*, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Pitcairn Islands*, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico*, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, South ‎Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, Virgin Islands*, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Easing into the new year

As I wrote in my previous post, over the past month (nearly two) I’ve taken a break from working on my various projects. Now it’s January and I’m beginning to ease into the new year. I am taking my huge to-do list and breaking it down into manageable pieces. I’m trying to prioritise which projects need to be completed now, which could slowly use a little attention, and which can wait. I’m trying to balance passion and practicality – while keeping a firm hold on my health.

One decision I’ve made is that while I want to get back to posting regularly, I will not try to write new blog posts every week in January.  Instead, I am going to highlight some previous posts that have been popular. I will share some of the comments I’ve received from readers.

I also plan to start sharing the backload of Recommended Reading, but to begin with I may end up with simpler comments rather than full summaries and reflections. I need to start somewhere, and I’m trying to start small.

After that, however, I want to get writing again! And I’d love to know what you’d like to see me writing about. Do you have any questions about TCKs, the Third Culture, expatriate life, what it means to grow up cross-culturally, or anything else? Send me your questions! I may not have all the answers, but that will just give me more to learn so I can share it with you.

What would you like to learn about?

What would you like to share?

What do you want to know?

What do you wish others knew about your experience?

My inspiration for writing has always come from people. Sometimes it comes from listening to struggles – parents who feel guilty or discouraged, TCKs who feel confused or misunderstood, expatriates who feel alone and disconnected. Sometimes it comes from listening to joys – celebrating lives of cross-cultural confusion and joy, finding your own way through international life, or fondly reminscing over a time and place and community that may no longer exist outside memory.

Whatever is on your mind, I would love to hear from you.

I look forward to hearing your stories, as I always have!

Sorry-not-sorry: taking a guilt-free break

I started to write a post apologising for my silence lately, my lack of online presence, the lists of great expat and TCK related posts I haven’t got around to sharing, or even more than skim read. Then I realised I don’t need to apologise – hence the sorry-not-sorry title for this post.

I don’t need to apologise because I haven’t done anything wrong. I have actually done something right! It’s something I need to learn to do better – and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I took a break.

I’ve previously mentioned the health difficulties I’ve faced over the past two months. A chest infection triggered severe acute asthma that eventually landed me in emergency in the middle of the night. I’ve seen five or more doctors in two countries. I’ve been prescribed over a dozen medications (I can’t be bothered to count them all!!) The bottom line is that I’ve spent a lot of time really exhausted. I haven’t had the energy to physically look after myself appropriately let alone focus my mind on work. It’s been very challenging, very frustrating, and progress has felt FAR too slow for my liking.

I was just started to feel well when I went on a trip to Australia. I did a lot of things but the main reason to go was to meet my two new nephews, as well as see my toddler niece again! I felt fine at first but started to struggle again resulting in more steroids. I also brought a case of gastro back to Beijing with me (a gift from my nephew) but at least I’m now feeling more on top of the asthma, really for the first time.

Through most of this time I was working to keep this blog updated, respond to emails, prepare the next stage of work for my next book, write articles requested of me by various publications. But I wasn’t managing it, couldn’t stay on top of it – I was falling short on every metric. I couldn’t take care of my basic needs, and yet I still feltIMG_20181122_093918_297.jpg the pressure to keep up with external activities.

After landing in hospital a week before my Australia trip, I finally decided to stop. No work until January. I wrote to a few people who were waiting on me, explaining the situation. I let go of a bunch of projects I felt an urgency to be working on. I let a lot of things lapse. And I didn’t feel guilty about it.

That’s the hard part for me. Not identifying that I need rest, or what I need to let go of, and even more than actually taking a break – taking a true mental break. Not even THINKING or worrying about the things I think I should be doing, and not feeling guilty for taking a break that was much needed. I know I’m not the only one. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Perhaps it’s a false belief that my worth lies in what I can DO for others. If I’m not doing something useful, who am I?

Perhaps it comes from caring – and a false belief that worry shows care. If I’m not doing something, and I’m not worrying about that, do I really care?

Perhaps it comes from insecurity about the value of my work. If I’m not taking every opportunity, pursuing every connection, squeezing out every drop of effort, will I ever get anywhere?

Perhaps it comes from using busyness to crowd out the needs of my heart. If I can’t hear my feelings, I don’t have to deal with my hurts.

It’s probably all of the above, for me. Perhaps some or all of these are true for you, too?

What I do know is that stepping away from a lot of things in order to focus on my health and my family was the best decision – even if it feels irresponsible or lazy, or any other accusation I throw at myself!

As I’ve talked with thousands of TCKs over the years, many have expressed a sense of pressure to excel, fear of failure, and a compulsion to keep moving – whether phsysically moving to a new location, emotionally never stopping to feel, or non-stop perfectionist working. And especially as I think through my new project (a book for twenty-something TCKs) I suspect that this season of struggle is particularly important. I have been forced to rest, and forced to face the reasons I resist rest. Perhaps the lessons I’m learning now, in doing “nothing”, will benefit others down the track.

I’ll close this odd little post with good wishes to all of you – that you will take your own guilt-free breaks, long and short, wherever you can find (and make!) them.

Lessons from a Third Culture childhood, part 4: No one understands

This series goes a little deeper into two key lessons of a TCK childhood, something I wrote about for China Source. In part 1 I discussed the lesson that “everyone leaves”. I then wrote two follow up posts regarding that lesson. Now, in this post, I am finally tackling the big one: “no one understands”.

Misunderstood

There’s a good reason my book is called Misunderstood. Very soon after starting interviews, I realised that the topic of feeling misunderstood, and the impact of this, was coming up repeatedly. I started asking TCKs I interviewed if they had felt misunderstood in certain ways and the floodgates opened immediately. Stories (and often tears) poured out of young people who desperately wanted to be known and understood but were hurt by misunderstandings, or even feared it would never be possible that another person could truly understand.

So, why is it that TCKs share this feeling of being misunderstood? Why do they fear that no one can understand?

Living in between

I surveyed 750 TCKs for Misunderstood, and (unsurprisingly) I asked several quesitons about the experience of feeling misunderstood. A third felt misunderstood by their parents, over half felt misunderstood by extended family members. 41% felt misunderstood by friends in their host country. 67% felt misunderstood by friends in their passport country. The main reason for this? Most of the people in a TCK’s life know only one side of that life.

As I’ve talked about before, the Third Culture experience is about living in between – with connections to more than one place/culture. One consequence of this for TCKs is that throughout their formative childhood years, most of the people they interact with know only one side of them – only one of the cultures/places they know and are deeply impacted by. TCKs learn to turn on and off languages and behaviours as they move from one setting to another. In the end, however, there are few places in which TCKs can express all their pieces of self at once.

Imagine a German kid attending an English-speaking school in Kenya. Most of his friends in Kenya won’t speak German or understand much of German life and culture. Most of his family and friends in Germany won’t know what life is like in Kenya, and how deeply in impacts him. In each place, a piece of self is quietly suppressed, to focus on the pieces the people around him can share. Then his family moves to Malaysia, and the complications continue.

“TCKs often feel they will never be known completely; at best they are known slightly by people all over the world. Each person only knows tiny snapshots of parts of their lives.” — Gabe, as quoted in Misunderstood

The joy of being understood

When your baseline assumption is that no one will understand, the experience of being understood is powerful. I had two main goals for Misunderstood, one for each of the two key audiences. I wanted to equip parents and other interested adults with tools to better understand their TCKs; and I wanted to show TCKs that there are others out there who get it – that they CAN be understood.

When Misunderstood was nearly finished I sent excerpts of the manscript to TCKs I had quoted, to make sure they were happy with how their words were being used. One of them summarised what I heard from many when he said “I could have said every quote in here! I didn’t know so many people felt the same way!” Another, when reading the book herself, tried to guess which quotes were hers without looking at the name given. Over and over she thought to herself “oh yeah, that’s me” – only to discover that someone she didn’t know had expressed the same sentiment in words she would have used herself.

Some of the pre-publication reviews of Misunderstood I most treasured came from TCKs themselves, who saw themselves in what I had written, and received that most cherished gift: of feeling themselves to be understood:

Misunderstood left me feeling refreshingly… understood! Compassionate and discerning, its blend of gathered narrative and insight left me with a sense of belonging as well as an appreciation for the many varieties of experience similar to mine. This is the guidebook I want to give people to explain my cultural upbringing.”
Christopher O’Shaughnessy, Author of Arrivals, Departures and the Adventures in Between

Misunderstood explains ME. Tanya gives words to internal feelings I could not have previously understood as a TCK. While I read, I found myself nodding with a sense of relief and recognition, ‘Yes! That’s what I felt. I’m not the only one.’”
Taylor Joy Murray, Author of Hidden in My Heart: A TCK’s Journey Through Cultural Transition

After Misunderstood was published and I started to hear from TCKs who had read it and felt the need to reach out and thank me for giving them this: being understood, and finding out they weren’t the only ones to feel this way. The very first letter I got was from a TCK living in Tajikistan. She shared some of her experiences with me and then said that reading my book was the first time since going through all this that she felt someone had understood her. My heart twisted – a combination of compassion for her, and gratitude that my words were able to bring her some comfort. I remember thinking at the time “for this one person, all the years of work are worth it.”

Two years later I had a letter from a young adult TCK who read my book after suffering a breakdown and discovering that they were a TCK. I heard that similar refrain – that it helped so much to know others felt the same way.

Understanding is possible!

The title Misunderstood is not supposed to be static – that TCKs exist in a state of being misunderstood that will never change. Instead, I hoped to do justice to the emotional experiences TCKs shared with me, while also opening a door to hope that it doesn’t have to be this way!

Yes – it’s true. Many people in a TCK’s life won’t instinctively understand their experiences. And unfortunately, it’s also true that some won’t want to try. But for those who are willing, resources like Misunderstood can help close the gap. It’s tiring, if not impossible, to be the one who advocates for yourself constantly, so giving TCKs a book (and other resources) they can put in the hands of people who do want to understand can take some of the load.

But more than that, there is hope in remembering that no one completely understands anyone else. We all have to share our stories, and try to listen to what another is saying about their experiences. What we all have in common are our emotions. We have all experienced loss, fun, joy, grief. It might look different, but the emotions underneath help us empathise. Learning to connect with and express the way we feel about things we’ve been through helps others go there with us.

The truth is, I know that there are many out there who are just like me, or at least can understand how I feel. There is a sense of isolation from others who are not TCKs, but I’ve always felt that in time most other people can at least comprehend the feelings we have. Loneliness is a universal trait among humans, whether it’s because you were always the weird kid at school or because you lived two thousand miles away from anyone who spoke English. While the reasons may be different, it’s the same type of pain we share.” – Eugene, as quoted in Misunderstood

Now what?

If you are a TCK: you’re not alone. You’re not the only one who has felt what you feel. There are others out there. Not only that, but there will be people in your life who want to listen, to learn, to come to understand you.

If you care for a TCK: a great gift you can give TCKs is to read up on different TCK literature, to start to get an idea of what forces have shaped their worldview. Remember that every TCK is an individual – no book will tell you exactly what they are like. BUT these resources can give you a starting place, to show you where your blind spots might be, and give you ideas of questions to ask to open up different conversations.

I’m going to close by borrowing my own words – from the close of the introduction to Misunderstood. This is what my book, and my work advocating for TCKs, is all about:

“There is no one-size-fits-all explanation of how every TCK has felt and who they will become. Rather, this book is a window into how international life can affect the way a child thinks and feels about their world, and how this different perspective may manifest in the way they interact with others.

Reading this will not teach you everything about any individual TCK, but it will give you a head start in understanding their perspective. From there it will be up to you to take time to talk with the TCKs you meet, and allow them to teach you more about their unique life journeys.”

Recommended reading: November 19th, 2018

This week’s Recommended Reading is a little shorter than usual, with fewer comments from me. After so many weeks of illness (and waking up to a lingering sore throat and head this morning) this is the best I can manage – and I’m learning to be okay with that. I still have long a list of posts I’ve saved to read later so have no fear – there’s a lot of material waiting for future editions of Recommended Reading!

Multilocalism Is Taiye Selasi’s Response To Those Attempting To Put A Label On Her
Forbes
I love Taiye Selasi’s thoughts on multilocalism. I referenced her TED talk both in Misunderstood and also in many semianrs I run. This is an interview with her about the concept and why it matters.
“For me the concept of being multilocal or experiences of being multilocal emerge from 20th and 21st century life taking such deep root in the places where people find themselves. It becomes most salient now because people find themselves in increasingly more places. Now, because our thinking and our language about identity has become more nuanced we know to ask more refined questions and we’ll expect to hear all of these local experiences of where someone is from. To be multilocal is just be informed by the totality of your local experiences”

The Lonely Life: Expat Suicide, Depression & Hotlines for Help
Flying with Toddlers
A sobering but oh-so-important post talking about depression and suicide among expatriates. As the author points out, these are not merely tragedies for individual families, but deeply impact the expatriate community. Sadly, so often those who are struggling feel isolated from that community. This post lists a variety of resources available to struggling expats, which is really helpful.
“If there’s one thing I could say to any woman struggling after relocation it’s this: you are not alone. There are hundreds if not thousands of us out there navigating our way through the maze of expat life alongside you. You do not need to suffer by yourself. For anyone needing support transitioning to a foreign country, there are a variety of resources available.”

Global Education Is Patriotic. Nationalist Rhetoric Does Not Benefit Our Students Education Week
An argument for the benefits of global engagement as opposed to nationalism, especially in education. A relevant topic for globally mobile families. It’s hard for a child with connections to multiple countries to engage with nationalistic sentiment.
“Why frame this as an ‘either-or’? Can’t we love our world and our country at the same time? Gaining a global mindset based on intellectual, social, and psychological capital, not being ruled by fear, is a privilege every child deserves. It makes our country stronger.”

A Homesickness Unto Life
In Search of Waking
Beautiful and poetic meditations on the meaning of “home” – especially in the midst of a world-travelling life.
“As I flit once more from this continent to that, packing my life’s possessions in three overlarge suitcases (discounting, of course, the books, pottery, clothes, and childhood toys that live in perpetual storage in my parents’ house and grandmother’s attic), it strikes me that home is a gift that must be given and received.2 It is bound to our conception of place (the familiar, the safe), but, at its core, deals in intangibles that transcend the physical world home inhabits: love, acceptance, belonging. Home is that place where one is sheltered and cherished. Not simply where one is known, but where one is desired to be known. The place where grace is extended and perfection is neither required nor expected. Where there is room to play, experiment, and fail. Where there is room to grow.”

Expat Parent Interviews; Where are they now?
Our Globetrotters
Great post re-interviewing several expat families about their journeys around the world. Long post, but great stories! Here’s a few excerpts:
“Then after 2.5 years life turned upside down when my husband was made redundant. Out of the blue the government organisation he was working for pulled out of mega project and all the staff were let go. This made us realise how quickly your life can unravel when your life is tied to a residency visa from a company. Your job, house, schooling – everything. . . I didn’t think I could replicate my ‘tribe’ or expat family I’d found in Hong Kong, so finding a few of the best friends I’ve ever had really was such a welcome surprise. When it eventually came for us to call it a day and head to Sydney for our next posting, we were all so torn. Leaving the adventure that was expat life was tough but leaving our friends was heartbreaking. . . The past two months have been both chaotic and wonderful. We have been deep in the throes of transition and have experienced every feeling from loving our new country to feeling culture shock all at the same time. . . The biggest thing during this period was the uncertainty. The living out of a box. We went from the end of March until the end of September without our familiar furniture, the kids toys, or even a place to call home. We knew we were moving but we weren’t sure when or exactly where.”

5 Ways To Help Knock Out Culture Shock
Diplomatic Kid
Five suggestions from a diplomat kid for facing and working through culture shock.
“Meeting others, while doing something physical somehow breaks cultural barriers… I have long believed that everyone should be a lifelong learner. Taking a class is not only humbling, but can also open up doors, shed light on culture, history and lead one down a path they never thought of.”

Recommended reading: November 5th, 2018

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! I’m starting this week with two posts written about Military Kids, one sub-type of TCKs and CCKs. I’d thought about saving them to go toward a military-themed edition of Recommended Reading but then I reconsidered. These are quality posts with excellent points that apply to lots of expatriate families.

Military Kids Face Unique Challenges to Their Mental Health
Tonic
In this post, the grown up military kid author looks at research into mental health outcomes for military kids and possible supports to improve this. I love this quote particularly. It explains exactly what I try to communicate – there is so much good that comes from an international childhood, but there are difficulties and needs that also need attention.
Military kids are frequently praised for their resilience, and rightfully so. But for many, the path to building that resilience is paved with anxiety, feelings of abandonment, and depression. Just as their strengths are celebrated, their needs deserve serious, resourceful attention…I don’t regret a second of my military childhood. The more we can understand the impact a military lifestyle can have on adolescents, however, the more I, and maybe other military brats — the ones who are foreigners in their hometowns and don’t know a single person from their childhood — can make a little more sense of our lives beyond the military.

3 Reasons Your Military Kids Don’t Need Roots…and Why They’re Better Off
Military Spouse
This piece acknowledges that a childhood with lots of transition does mean kids miss out on developing deep roots, with stability and continuity. But, the author suggests, they are learning different skills. There are some really good points here about different positives that can come from an international childhood. As long as articles like this are read alongside those like the one above – that we balance seeing the positives and also supporting the difficulties.
Often, as military parents, we worry about what we are not providing our kids: stability, continuity and those thick, long roots. We worry about how the military lifestyle is affecting our kids now, in the present: are they scared? Nervous? Shy? Sad? Lost? Lonely? Anxious? How is deployment affecting them? Is it interfering with their learning, their happiness, their ability to socialize? But then I thought of what we are giving them, and deep down I believe it has the power to prepare them for the long-term in a truly awesome way.”

Transitioning Well As a Family When Moving
Taking Route
Great post with simple and practical suggestions to help families deal with transition. Even better – each tip comes with a practical way to implement the idea!
It took us a few tries and lots of practice, but our family discovered several keys to making transition calmer, more manageable, and even…enjoyable. Yes, enjoyable. We have some great family memories from times of transition. (We’re a little crazy like that.) So now we’ve become routine-loving homebodies who also enjoy moving and change and new places. . .You may not become a change junkie overnight, that doesn’t mean you can’t embrace transition when it comes. And your attitude will set the example for everyone else.

Building resilience in children
Japan Harvest
Some simple tips for building resilience in TCKs. This is from a missionary perspective but, as with the military posts above, has helpful information for all kinds of expat families. A lot of what I commonly teach in seminars is summarised here – the need to learn that failure is part of the process, the importance of learning to grieve losses well, and modelling this for them with emotional vocabulary. (Even quotes Julia Simens – who I regularly reference!)
Children are not naturally resilient, but parents can teach them the skills so that they can learn how to be resilient. Such skills include things like making friends, having faith, building relationships, and letting failure be okay. As parents of TCKs, we can also teach them an emotional vocabulary that leads to emotional literacy, which will help them to process the large amount of loss that is part of the TCK’s life. This process helps build resiliency in our children and prepares them to lead successful lives.

Peeling Pomegranates in Rania
Communicating Across Boundaries
Yet another lovely reflection from Marilyn as she transitions to a new life on another continent. What I love about this particular piece is how a simple task connected her TCK past to her current life.
Most TCKs acquire skills that are useful in their childhood but often end up as hidden parts of their lives when they are older and living in their passport countries. Suddenly this ability to peel pomegranates feels important. Growing up in Pakistan and acquiring the skills that were not needed in the U.S. has uniquely prepared me for living here.”

Learning to Be an Acceptable Outsider
China Source
This is a short but challenging piece about what it means to be a “foreigner” – to be seen as an outsider, and know that you will never be considered a local. This can be annoying, and even painful. The suggestion this article makes – become an “acceptable outsider”. This advice comes with a list of questions to consider – what does this look like, and how can I do this.
In order to be an acceptable outsider, we must have access to the world of the insiders…we must be willing to submit to insiders and their ways…we must be willing to change.

Why being a career expat is a huge leap of faith
The Piri-Piri Lexicon
One thing I tried hard to do in Misunderstood was capture the wide range of expatriate experiences, and therefore the wide range of ways a TCK might grow up. Not all expat families move frequently, and not all have financially generous ‘expat packages’. This post talks about this other experience – the “career expat”, a family who move abroad independently, without the financial and logistical support others receive. There are some interesting points about what this means for a family. Well worth a read!
Many expats have a home country and/or a company as a safety net. Being a career expat family is a leap of faith without that safety net. Maybe being a career expat is not for people with a plan B.

The Expatriate Mothers’ Network
Indonesia Expat
While this post is about a particular experience in a particular country, there is also something more universal about it. The suprise at how deep expatriate relationships can go. The importance of having that support when you are so far away from your original networks. Having people who understand – something we all need.
I never thought that moving abroad would result in gaining more friends than I had before I left. I thought my journey as an expat would be lonely and that I would struggle to find like-minded people. Instead, I have met many soul mates and genuine connections from various backgrounds and cultures. When I became an expat, I became a part of a dynamic network that would grow even stronger and larger when I had a baby.