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


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

Unrequited love of place

In a recent recommending reading post I linked to Mariam’s “break up letter” to Dubai, the city her family just moved on from. There were some things she wrote at the end of her letter that I found particularly poignant and worth some further reflection:

Dear Dubai, my bags are packed, my goodbyes are done. My memories are now strewn all over your glittering skyline. Your streets will forever feel like home, your parks and beaches are the background of my kid’s childhood photos. How many times over the past four years have I posted pictures of you and me together on Instagram and used the popular hashtag “#mydubai”? But then wondered, are you really mine? Can you ever truly be mine?

Today I wonder, why does it hurt so much to leave a city that was never mine to begin with?

Falling in love with you Dubai, is like falling in love with someone who says “I’m not looking for any commitment. Nothing serious, please.” Once an expat in Dubai, always an expat in Dubai, because there is no path to long-term citizenship in the UAE.

This is why I have to break up with you Dubai. Trust me, it’s for the best. I need to move on. Some relationships are short like yours and mine, but it doesn’t make them any less meaningful. Better to do this sooner rather than later, when it will hurt even more.

This captures beautifully the tension felt by many expatriates, and especially by many TCKs. Relationships are not unilateral. There is a two-way street. Can a place ever be truly mine unless it embraces me, too?

An immigrant is a person who has this two-way relationship with a country. They have chosen the country, and the country has chosen them. There is acceptance in both directions.

Expatriates do not have this.

An expatriate is someone without a long-term commitment. For some, it is because they do not want a long-term commitment. They want to go back ‘home’ after their time is done. For others, the country they live in does not want a long-term commitment. There is no path to citizenship, no way to legally become a local. This is where the “unrequited love” of the post title comes from. There are many expatriates around the world who have fallen in love with a country that will never fully embrace them.

That’s my situation, in China. I love this place, I really do. But I can never become Chinese. Not legally, and not in the eyes of Chinese people. I must live with the uncertainty of a constantly changing visa situation, and never having permission to remain more than one year at a time.

Many TCKs live with this. The place of childhood becomes inaccessible. There is no legal rights to belong. There is no recognition of their connection. The place they love, and were raised in, does not acknowledge them.

Perhaps a better relational analogy for the TCK experience is foster care. Temporary guardians, not permanent family. Some foster situations are joyful and warm, others are difficult and even traumatic. Some can lead to permanent adoptive situations; I’ve interviewed a number of TCKs who were able to gain citizenship in the country they grew up in as expatriates. But for many, that is not an option – even for those who wish it was.

There is a particular pain that goes with unrequited love of place. To feel at home in, identify with, love, a particular place – but have no security there. A place that says, as Mariam put it: “I’m not looking for any commitment. Nothing serious, please.” 

Amy Medina wrote about this feeling in a post I included in a different recommended reading list. She called it “forbidden roots” – creating those connections in a place you know won’t be forever. She also used relational terminology to describe it, writing: “It’s like coming to the realization that I’ve fallen in love with something that I can’t keep.

It’s hard to keep giving yourself to a place that won’t ever love you back, so to speak. To invest in a place that won’t invest in you. Mariam wrote of the choice to leave, before it hurts too much. Amy wrote of the choice to invest, knowing it will hurt much.

But here’s the crunch for TCKs, again – the lack of choice. This unrequited love of place is the result of choices made on their behalf. But as with anyone, in any life situation, all we can do is choose how we respond to what life has brought us. We can choose where to invest ourselves, our lives, our love – in this moment, and from now on.


This quiet back road was part of my regular commute during my first year in Beijing (back in 2004).

Recommended reading: August 13th, 2018

This week’s recommended reading has an education focus. School is a huge part of any child’s life – and no less so for Third Culture Kids. Moving around the world into a new school – a new school system, with different expectations and perhaps even a different language – is a big challenge to overcome! It’s really important for those of us supporting and caring for TCKs (and their parents) to think about how education plays out in the lives of international families. This is a loose collection of recent articles discussing different elements of education – transition, language, culture, and alternative ways of learning.

Bilingualism and Homework, part 2
Expats since birth
This fantastic post was written by Ute Limacher-Riebold, who always has great tips for international families. She discusses something that comes up in a lot of international families: what to do when your children attend school in a language you aren’t fluent in? What is most valuable about this post, however, is the range of really great practical advice for parents in this situation. In particular, how to learn the language of study and exams, for both parents and students.
“What for a native speaker is “common sense” might not be for someone who speaks this language only at school (or at work for that matter…). Here are some sites where you can find an overview of recurrent terms that are used in English exams…”

How to cope with sending your child to a school that isn’t diverse
Multicultural Kid Blogs
This one isn’t about expat kids necessarily, but about parenting a child who is a minority in their school – something that can happen whether at home or abroad. There is great practical advice for parents here, on how to support a child through an experience that has the potential to be stressful.
When your kids are in school, one of the most important things you can do every day is to talk to them. Sometimes simply asking how their day went is not enough. When your child is attending a school that isn’t diverse, it’s important to make sure they are having a good experience.

4 Tips for a Stellar Start for International Children Starting a New School
Multicultural Kid Blogs
And now, by their powers combin: a post by Ute, published on Multicultural Kids! This piece has solid advice on ways to help kids transition into a new school in a new location. Includes a lot of reference links to additional material, too.
If we have been through this kind of change before, we tend to assume that they [children] will all be fine (in time). I strongly advise not to do that. . .what was easy before might be an issue now. During a transition, our children tend not to make us worry and would do anything to see us happy.

A Parents Guide to Changing Schools
Mixed Up Mama
This is about changing schools generally, but I found there was a lot in here that is valuable for international moves, too. From acknowledging the emotional difficulty for parents watching a child struggle with adjustment, to logistics. I particularly appreciated this piece of advice: “Consult with your children but don’t let them decide.” I talk to parents about this a lot in regards to the decision to move. It is great to consult your kids, but don’t pretend they’re really making the decision – you will decide whether to move or not, even if that decision is impacted by your child’s opinions. Be the parent, make the decision, and acknowledge to your child that that is the situation.
Some of the reasons we couldn’t always share with her as they were about things she may not have always understood- long term vision, bigger picture as a family etc. Children think in terms of the short term and their immediate situation. We did share with her slowly some of the reasons but left it open for her to see some of the advantages herself as well. We talked with her at every step of the process getting her ready but ultimately it was our decision as parents.

Why teachers shouldn’t be afraid of other languages being spoken in the classroom
The Conversation
Clare Cunningham discusses her research on alternative lanugages in the classroom, from the perspective of English-language education in the UK. She brings up several interesting points (and links to her research) about reasons teachers may prefer a monolingual classroom. One teacher “spoke about what she called “the inappropriateness of language” – claiming that children only use other languages when they want to be rude or exclude others.” This has certainly been an argument in some schools I’ve known who maintain an “English-only” school environment. A related argument is that allowing other languages excludes children who cannot participate in that language. Clare also notes promising changes as schools and teachers are “striving to overcome their worries about multilingual spaces and making excellent use of online resources for curriculum based work in a range of languages – as well as providing tailored teaching materials for children that need them.

Supporting Education From The Outside In
This fantastic article links the power of art and storytelling to fostering emotional wellness in cross-cultural children. This is something I wrote about in Misunderstood, and is something others have tackled as well. Author Michelle is Board President for Cultured Kid, an organisation working on curriculum that uses art and storytelling to support CCKs in their identity struggles while simultaneously developing greater cultural undestanding and empathy in their mono-cultural peers. I am really excited by this concept and hope to hear more about it in the future!
For the past year Cultured Kids has been working alongside education professionals, consultants, and students in public health and child development to tackle this single complex question: Is it possible to create a curriculum for schools that could support academic achievement in conjunction with promoting individual social emotional wellness within this sea of cultural complexity? We believe there is.

Why Worldschooling?
The Black Expat
Interesting perspective on alternative schooling. Worldschooling uses the world around us to direct amd encourage learning. Author Karen and her partner are both trained teachers, and have used their experience along with a worldschooling mindset to educate their son while travelling abroad.

What is worldschooling?
World School Family Summit
With my interest piqued, I went and found this recent article describing worldschooling a little more, including descriptions of different ways this works for different families. In this post, TCKs are considered worldschoolers even when they attend traditional schools (international or local) as they are still outside their ‘home’ culture and its educational system.

Expat education and separated parents
Expat Child
This is a short article, more of an overview, and is based in the UK system. That said, it raising several really important questions regarding co-parenting an education, especially when an international move is part of the equation. For example:
When a child attends school in another country there can be many decisions requiring a parent’s consent which can be difficult to obtain when the parents are abroad and more so if communications between separated parents are difficult.

Win a signed copy of Misunderstood!


A few weeks ago Facebook pointed out to me that the Misunderstood page has over 900 likes, and suggested I celebrate this milestone. I couldn’t be bothered – hah! But then I thought, well, 1000 is a pretty nice round number, why don’t I celebrate that instead? And so I’ve decided to celebrate by mailing *one lucky winner* a signed copy of my book!

Here’s the deal: to enter the draw, comment on this post. That’s it!

Once the Misunderstood page on facebook hits 1,000 likes, I’ll use a randomiser to pick a winner from the list of comments. If that’s you, I’ll email you to arrange sending a personalised book to you (or someone you want to gift it to!)

You’ll be required to enter an email address in order to comment. Your email address will NOT be posted publicly, but I’ll be able to see it privately. That’s how I’ll contact you if you’re the winner.

It would also be great if you can share the Misunderstood page with your facebook friends. There’s an “invite friends” option on the right hand side, where you can send an invite (even through messenger) explaining to people what the page is and why you think they might be interested. For example:

I’m inviting you to like this page for the book “Misunderstood” which is about the experience of growing up overseas. I thought you might find it interesting.

Remember, the faster Misunderstood hits 1,000 likes on facebook, the faster there’ll be a winner to send a book to ;)

Recommended reading: August 6th, 2018

My latest collection of recommended posts about expatriate life and Third Culture Kids.

Thoughts on Citizenship from Around the World
Velvet Ashes
Really interesting piece, which collects four vignettes from different women around the world reflecting on their experiences of citizenship – as affected by expatriate living, cross-cultural relationships, and adoption. I particularly like this little thought, which resonates with many conversations I’ve had during interviews:
I was becoming part of the fabric of life here in a way that just sticking to my role would never have achieved. And isn’t that part of being a citizen? Beyond passports and visas, I realized I started to feel like a citizen of this place when I began to be invested beyond my little niche.

The Labeling of Self
TCK Town
This is a fascinating, uncomfortable, important piece of reflection. It largely follows a conversation among a group of expatriates from various countries, as they negotiate ethnic labels and how they do or don’t self-identify, and who they do and don’t include in those identity umbrellas. It makes me stop and think. Something that international life has provoked for me is the way I have included people in umbrellas they don’t identify with, how easily I can make assumptions about others’ experiences. This piece sits in that discomfort, and invites readers to listen, and reflect on their own use of labels.
We all came out of the park with our egos a little bruised and worse for wear. Instead of peeking into our sandwiches, we had spent the hour delving into conceptions and misconceptions of labeling our identities.

Ex expats from NL: Dutch repatriates – how does it feel to be home?
Dutch News
An interesting piece on repatriates to the Netherlands, with quotes from several repats with different stories. They share different difficulties they’ve experienced, that will ring true with many expats/repats.
“People who’ve lived abroad for a long time, she explains, learn to look at the world from a different perspective. ‘You have seen a lot. That uproots you from your own country.’”

Phoenix Rising: Reflection on Expat Resilience and Health Crisis Abroad
I Am A Triangle
An interesting piece reflecting on a patient experiencing a health crisis while abroad. Carolyn uses one person’s experience as a springboard to consider the emotional resilience for expatriates generally. It is a longer piece, with several sections looking at different aspects of the experience of coping with this sort of situation. These include self-care, emotional support, multi-faceted healing, and adaptation.
Normal emotional and stresses that come with illness or injury are compounded by his being so far from loved ones and by his difficulty communicating with healthcare personnel. He misses his three children and the normal routines they share together. Creating a support system doesn’t happen organically for him in this setting. The language barrier prevents the casual rapport-building that would normally take place between strangers brought together by a common denominator. He misses the simplicity of these types of human connections and consciously searches out other English-speakers within the hospital.

Dear Dubai, Can We Please Part as Friends?
And Then We Moved To
Mariam pens a break-up letter to Dubai, her home of the past four years. It is sweet, thoughtful, emotional, and insightful. It starts like this:
Dear Dubai, If you and I were in a relationship on Facebook, I’d choose the relationship status “it’s complicated.” You know it and I know it. We have had a love/hate relationship since day one, and four years later, its still messy to describe my feelings for you or the way I affectionately refer to you…

Tips for Strengthening Families in Transition
Our Goodwin Journey
This post is written by a missionary and so there are a few assumptions from that perspective, but the general content is really helpful for all families experiencing transition. There are practical ideas, covering topics such as being proactive, dealing with emotions, and maintaining relational focus.
“For our family, we all sense the next transition and begin feeling the effects about 2 months prior to the move. We all feel the emotions building. We all experience the mixed mental challenges of being here and being there at the same time. So many decisions, goodbyes, frustrations, to-do lists and challenges come into play each day through a cross cultural move. Stress rises, tensions escalate and tears flow. Random meltdowns for kids and parents alike are normal for families in transition…But what can we all do to help families in transition get through the moving season in healthy, good ways?”

The Expat Blues
The Expat Mummy
One “trailing spouse” wife and mother reflects on the depression and purposelessness that can strike after moving to a(nother) new location. She knows the right things to do, sees the progress on paper, yet struggles with identity. This post doesn’t offer a lot of answers, but offers validation of the struggle. I really appreciate that.
“So why mock that ever so helpful list, after all the tried and tested remedy for loneliness is the same the world over and it’s not wrong. My problem with the list is that we aren’t always looking for advice, sometimes what a trailing spouse needs is recognition.”

The Three Cultures of a TCK

Last week I wrote a guest post for China Source, explaining the Three Cultures of a Third Culture Kid. I give a brief rundown of this in my general intro to TCKs, but my post for China Source expands on this, and includes a few quotes from Misunderstood.

I explain not only what the Three Cultures are, but why they matter – in particular, the separation of where I live, and where I am legally recognised.

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.

These relationships to countries are why the Third Culture matters.

“The third culture is the “childhood home” of TCKs. It is located not in geography, but in relationships. While the first and second cultures are primarily about place, the third culture is about experience: the experience of growing up between first and second cultures that do not perfectly align.”

I believe in the benefit of talking about Third Culture as a category of experience. There are hundreds of thousands of TCKs around the world, unique individuals who cannot be neatly described by a list of common characteristics. But they do share a particular type of experience, which impacts the way they see the world.

“Childhood for TCKs is rooted in communities that move on, in a mixture of cultures and places that is difficult to replicate. The constant transition of international life (whether I leave, or others leave me) has an impact, and there are unique experiences that go with expatriate living. These are the backdrop of an international childhood. These shared experiences of childhood are what the third culture is all about.”

Read the full post on China Source: The Three Cultures of a Third Culture Kid

Recommended reading: July 30th, 2018

Last week’s recommended reading had a TCK perspective theme – a collection of posts written by TCKs reflecting on their experiences. I’m continuing that theme this week, although this week I’m also including some posts about TCKs, written by those who care about them.

On Welcoming the Third Culture Kid
A Life Overseas
Fabulous post by the always wonderful Marilyn, offering lists of DOs and DON’Ts for how to support Third Culture Kids walking through repatriation. There is so much gold here! For example,
DO: “Let them talk about their past. They have left so much, let them talk about what they have left.”
DON’T: “Put a time limit on their adjustment and their grieving. We are all different. We grow and adjust at different rates. So don’t put time limits on the TCK. Allow them room even as you continue to love and challenge them.”

Third Culture Kid Diaries: Connecting with Locals and Making Friends
Restless Feet Adventures
This is a great post by a Taiwanese TCK sharing four tips for how to build relationships. Her reflections come two years into repatriation, and includes that perennial TCK problem – why is it so much harder to make friends at ‘home’ when I did it just fine elsewhere? Now – back to her four ways to connect with others, anywhere: shared experiences, similar interests, pop culture, and mutual friends.
“I realized I let my focus on the fact that I didn’t grow up in Taiwan overshadow all the other ways I made friends in the past…Sometimes I have to remind myself to go out and socialize with people because I’m so comfortable and enjoy doing things alone. But building and maintaining relationships is important to me so I just have to keep reminding myself to go out and do it!

A high-school reunion, international style
Monday Morning Emails
In this post Terry reflects on the reunion of six high school friends – living in different countries, holding different citizenships – including her son. It’s a great piece! Here’s a taste:
As I listened to a conversation that straddled countries as easily as ‘hopping on that plane’, it confirmed that despite the obvious challenges of a global life, it fosters engaged global citizens. We can be proud of this. As parents we often question this overseas life and the impact that it has on our children.

Finding common ground in Minnesota
TCK Town
One TCK shares about her friendship with another TCK. For me, this piece is about showing grace in the face of racism. By that I don’t mean staying silent – not at all! – but I mean not letting those negative experiences steal the possibility of good experiences. Being the best version of yourself, even when treated unjustly. Taking the first step to build connections with others, even when they wouldn’t do that for you.
“I’m so thankful for this friendship and all it has taught me. Without Samiya I would not know how amazing Somali tea is, I would not know the traditions of Ramadan or that Syria has some of the nicest people you will ever meet. There is joy in loving people who are different than you. If we can learn to love those who are different than us, we could see how rich and flavorful our lives can be.”

Continental Drift
A very sweet poem from an expat mum to her TCK children, as they approach a(nother) international move. It is a beautiful piece, and I’ll share a few lines from it with you here:
You don’t want to change, you don’t want to go,
you want to stay put, I know, my love, I know,
It’s OKAY to feel worried or nervous or fearful,
I feel all those things too and saying goodbye still makes me tearful,
But we have to let go, step into the unknown,
I promise Life will unfold and you’ll never be alone,

It’s that time of the year again… ‘Moving Season’
Little Miss Expat
One TCK interviews a good friend who moved a year ago. Some lovely responses here reflecting on both the positives and negatives of moving to a new international location. What I most appreciate, however, is the way she encourages “stayers” like herself to both recognise the difficult of the leaving season for themselves, but also to aim to support “leavers” well.
“Overall, I think it’s just super important to remember that life is what you make of it, you can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control the way that you deal with it and what you make of the situation. People moving away is one of those situations which is sad, but also exciting as it’s the start of a new adventure for the person moving. And as the friend staying behind, you also have to support your friend with this new chapter in their life. Don’t view moving as something bad, shift your focus, and see it as the start of something exciting and different.”

Itchy feet
Third Culture Queer
I really appreciate this perspective, from a queer TCK who looks at the intersection of those two identities. This short post considers the “ichy feet” syndrome familiar to many internationals, but with the extra layer of difficulty that comes with a queer identity. I especially appreciate the conclusion, which holds truth for us all – both going and staying are choices, and both hold some sort of risk:
Being gay is illegal in many countries, and only a handful of places are vaguely okay on the whole trans and non-binary thing. Do I want to live somewhere I would not be able to be myself, where I would have to hide? . . .Whatever I decide, it is a risk. A risk I will have to censor myself. A risk I stay here stuck in a rut. A risk I don’t take control of my own life. But each risk has its payoffs, and I need to decide which I want to go for.”

FIGT is coming to Thailand in April 2019!

Families In Global Transition (FIGT) is a great organisation connecting international individuals and families around the world. I attended their annual conference in the Netherlands in 2017. I had an amazing time! Given the craziness of my 2018 it’s unsurprising I couldn’t make the trip there this year, but I am super crazy excited that the 2019 conference will be in Bangkok, Thailand!!!

If you are an international anywhere in the world, the FIGT conference is hugely valuable. If you live in Asia or Australia, however, this is an amazing opportunity! Previously the conference has been held in North America or Europe. The fact that it will be happening on this side of the globe is incredibly exciting! I highly recommend it, and I would love to see lots of my international connections in Australia and Asia make the trip to attend their first FIGT conference!

Who should go?

  • Anyone who has moved around the world
  • Anyone raising their children outside their passport countries (TCKs)
  • Anyone working in an international school
  • Anyone teaching or working to support TCKs
  • Anyone supporting international families (counsellors, for example)
  • Anyone working in HR for companies that move workers (and families) internationally

Why should you go?

  • 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!)

So, am I getting paid to say all this??

Hahaha the short answer is definitely not! I am someone who went to the conference and was blown away by how great it was. I know that taking the conference to Asia is a risk for the organisers and I really want to see a huge response from all the international families on this side of the world. I know there are a lot of people who have felt the lack of resources for international families here, especially those working for (and moved around by) multinational companies.

I’m hoping to be a bit more involved myself this time around, and I’ll be sure to update you with more information, especially when registration opens.

Recommended reading: July 23rd, 2018

This week’s recommended reading has a special theme: TCK perspectives. All the posts I’m recommending this week were written by TCKs reflecting on their experiences – as missionary kids, military kids, diplomatic kids, from and in various countries. I haven’t written much by way of  “summaries” of each piece. Instead I strongly recommend you go and read them. Most are short, and the power of first-person narratives is worth the extra clicks – I promise.

Growing Up Behind a Brick Wall
Global Nomads World
Alexa writes about living in a diplomatic compound in Russia. She paints a vivid picture of childhood experiences that draws you into her world there. She concludes by describing the strange experience of returning later:
…the true essence of the place is never-changing. . .And yet not a single thing is the same – except for that essence. No one recognizes you. It’s like coming back home after college but instead of all your family friends saying, “it’s nice to see you!” they say “it’s nice to meet you.”

Little Soldier
TCK Town
In this poignant piece, “Military Brat” Shannon reflects on her understanding of and relationship to her mother’s profession as a soldier. She also says something I’ve heard from lots of different TCKs, not just military kids: “I had to be on my best behavior for my parents’ sake. This kind of responsibility makes every member of the community feel like part of a team.

A Third Culture Kid’s Soul
This is Katha: thoughts of a traveling mind
Katha writes about the tension of wanting to go-explore-encounter, but also to stay and be rooted at home.
“Two souls rage inside of me. Telling me to go. Begging me to return and stay. . .I leave pieces of myself behind whenever I have to say goodbye. And then I travel to find them again.”

Free Verse: human mess
Embassy Kid
This is a lovely short poem about a mix of cultures in a single life and the tension that creates.

What is Going Home?
My Island Journeys
This post starting with a prompt about “going home”. What follows is a lovely set of memories around an IKEA, and learning to hold onto and let go of “home” in different places.
For me, going home was permission. Permission to concretely remember a place, and therefore to concretely admit that I’d left it. Permission to grow up, now that I had clear memories of the place that I’d left in a fog of grown-up-too-soon grief.

Life as a ‘Third Culture Kid’
The Gryphon
This is an older piece, but valuable for including short perspectives from four young women, each with (different) European passports. One of many standout quotes:
I feel obliged to identify as a Belgian, given my nationality. However, having just lived in Belgium for a year and a half, I don’t feel that’s completely accurate.”

A TCK’s Struggle with Depression
TCK Training
Aneurin talks about his struggle with depression, and how this struggle has interacted with his TCK experiences. Of particular note is the way he describes swinging from feeling his TCK experience was all good, to all bad. It’s much harder to exist in the shades of grey between extremes, but such an important skill to learn for long term emotional health.
I now know that mental illnesses are common like a cold. I also know that TCK’s are more prone than monocultural people to suffer from them. These illnesses are often our body’s response to traumatic events. . .I think being a TCK is amazing, but it needs to be done well. There are many challenges that need to be navigated, things like the challenges of transition or unresolved grief. We are a remarkably resilient people group, but we always need to get help from others, particularly when it comes to mental illnesses.

Home and Rootlessness – TCK Art Gallery
Noggy Bloggy
Finally, this post is from Aneurin’s regular blog, and introduces a TCK Art Gallery. The post showcases three pieces picked out by Michele Phoenix as particular favourites of hers. The gallery itself features a wide range of visual art, photography, and also poetry. Lots of beautiful work worthy of time and reflection.

My difficult experiences of going home

There are two countries I’ve returned home to, twice each. The country of my childhood, and the country of my adulthood.

I grew up in my passport country, Australia. But I spent two years of high school living in Connecticut, in the US. Then I went home.

Ar 21 I moved out of my parents house straight to China, where a study year turned into 11 years abroad. Then I went home.

Two very different repatriation experiences. Both difficult, in different ways. The first time I was desperate to go home and be normal and fit in, and was desperately discouraged to find those two years had changed me – that I no longer fit in, that I still stood out. The second time I knew what to expect. I knew all the theory, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, that I wouldn’t feel totally at home. It was still more difficult than theory alone could express.

I thought that season of my life was over – but I was wrong. I made two very different visits to China during my three year stint in Australia, and then moved back here (to Beijing). In a way, it was going home. But it wasn’t what I expected.

It’s those more unusual homecomings I am pondering today.

My first return trip to Beijing was unexpected, mostly unplanned, and rather last minute. There was a sale on plane tickets and I moaned to a friend back in Beijing about how tempting it was. I really couldn’t afford a ticket, even a cheap one, even if I could justify the expense for one week (the longest time I had free between commitments). Then that friend bought me a ticket. Again, I knew a lot of theory, and I thought I knew what to expect. It had been two years. I had changed. Beijing had changed. It wouldn’t feel the same. I thought that perhaps this would be a helpful goodbye trip for me, a chance to farewell this place that was such a part of who I am, that I still missed. Looking at my life logically, at where I thought I was heading, it didn’t seem at all likely to me that I would live in China again. I hoped I would visit, but it was only a theoretical hope.

Instead, as I moved around Beijing the feeling of HOME hit me so hard that I felt it almost viscerally. I felt a deep sadness that it was no longer my place – it FELT like my place; every fibre of my being wanted to be there. I thought that since so much of my community wasn’t there any more that it wouldn’t feel the same. I discovered instead that I felt connected to the PLACE itself, not just the people with whom I had shared it. The sights, the sounds, the colours, the smells. I feared that had I not had a close friend’s wedding to attend in Australia I would have struggled to get on that plane and leave again.

I had grieved leaving Beijing two years earlier. So I thought. In hindsight, I think I did a good job of grieving the people I was leaving, and the life I was leaving, but I didn’t grieve the PLACE in the same way. Upon my return, all those connections to place were still there, waiting to come to life, to shower me in grief – the recognition that I had left the place that felt like mine.

A year later, I made another trip to Beijing. This time, everything was different. I had started dating someone who lived in Beijing. A few months earlier I had decided I would move to Beijing at the end of the year, when I graduated. And now I was coming to visit the man who was about to become my fiancé. A very, very different trip!

This time, Beijing felt very different. It did NOT feel like home. It felt familiar, but also foreign. In the year since my first trip, I’d finally settled into life in Australia, started to feel at ease there. I’d connected to THAT place – and now felt disconnected from THIS place. The connections I’d recognised and grieved a year earlier weren’t there anymore. There was nostalgia, and enjoyment of place, but none of that visceral sense of deep connection.

It didn’t help that I was staying in a very different part of the city. It was where my partner lived, but it was a place I didn’t know, a place that had never been mine. During the whole trip I felt very disconcerted. I was going to move there in six months – and suddenly I felt really apprehensive about that move. I wasn’t going to be coming home after all. I was going to have to start again in a place that used to be home.

Having that realisation 2.5 years after repatriating, only a few months after finally starting to feel at ease in my passport country, was devastating. I was going to have to start that same process all over again. At least this time I’d only been gone 3 years, not 11 – maybe that would help. At least this time I would be recognised as a foreigner – maybe that would help. I would be with my partner, but he wouldn’t be experiencing the same transition with me. It left me dreading the turmoil I could suddenly see coming my way.

Now, people ask me how long I’ve been back in Beijing and I find it hard to answer. 6 months? But I’ve travelled in and out a lot, and lived in three different apartments. 3 months in this apartment – but I was gone for most of the first month. It’s only in the last month or so I’ve started to feel able to begin the process of settling into a new life and routine here.

Right now the best I can manage most days is just getting by. Take small steps toward building a life here. Celebrate tiny achievements. Look for little moments that encourage me, that tell me it’s going to work out and one day I’m going to find my feet here, in this new life. Transition is hard. It’s exhausting. But it’s also worth it.

(This post was inspired by a prompt on Communicating Across Boundaries, in which Marilyn wrote about “Going Home”.)

Recommended Reading: July 16th, 2018

Welcome to this week’s edition of Recommended Reading! I don’t have a particular theme for this week. Instead, here’s a collection of posts I’ve read recently that I feel have something of value to offer expat and TCK communities around the world.

A Letter to the Stayers
Aylssa Cowell
I love this! We absolutely need to recognise the impact of STAYING in transient communities. Whenever I do transition seminars with students in international schools I ask how many times people have moved, how many schools they’ve attended – but I also ask how many close friends they’ve watched move away. Every time I ask that questions there are students who refuse to answer – too many to count. It’s a real and deeply difficult experience, and one that is often overlooked.
We don’t really talk about the emotional hardship, of the loss felt by those who stay. We know it is hard for those who leave. But for those who stay some of you will have lost 4, 5, 6, 7… countless people who were close to you. The school is the same but it’s not really the same. . .Look out for each other out there – if you are lucky enough to have your friends stay – look out for those who don’t. Invite them to sit with you. Say hello in the corridors. Ask them if they are okay. Our words are powerful and you should never underestimate the impact of a small gesture.

I Think It Is Okay to be an Alien
Velvet Ashes
What happens when you stand out in every situation, everywhere you’ve lived, your whole life? What happens when they places you consider home consider you an alien? Erika writes about making peace with her alien status. But I think what I appreciated most was how she so adroitly summed up the “misunderstood” feeling that undergirds much of my book:
As a third culture kid, I tried on many identities. Like most of my MK friends, I went through a “proud Canadian” phase, through a phase of “I’m from all of North America” and a “nothing but Mexican” phase. None of them worked. I found I could relate to people from all of these places, but none of them — not even family — could relate to all of me. And that made me alien.

My top tip for parenting through transition
Meet Jesus at uni
I was so touched by this piece! One mother articulates the guilt and struggle of seeing her young children wrestling to find a way through transition – again. “I do things to help them through transitions…Those things help, but they do not fix anything.” But then she remembers – “the normal initial adjustment period for humans after trauma or significant change is 6-8 weeks“. The best thing she can do is keep remembering that it’s going to get better – to relax and be patient and kind to herself and her kids as they adjust yet again. (Sounds like something I said recently!)
“This happens every time we do a transition. Between 4 and 6 weeks, things come to a head and I panic as I hurt for my little boys and the mama guilt overwhelms me. I wonder if the crisis versions of my sons are simply who they are now. But if I can remember that 8 weeks is our usual adjustment time, and if I can tolerate it until then, my little ones start to know themselves again. I just have to hang in there with them. And be ready to do it all again in the not-too-distant future.”

How Having A Name That No One Can Pronounce Taught Me Who I Really Am
Huffington Post
In last week’s recommended reading I included a piece in which the author reflected on wrestling with identity through her name – how it defined and separated her, especially when peers could not pronounce it. This piece shares a similar story: “I’ve always felt like a part of me was lost in translation. My name, so beautiful in my parents’ native Tamil, doesn’t quite fit my flattened American accent.” I really appreciate the telling of how her frustration shifted from one object to another over time. She ends by acknowledging the stress while embracing the different influences that make her who she is – name and all:
“Today, I still get a little shy before I introduce my name. I still stress out about the logistics.. But now, I️ understand that I’m not Indian or American, but both. I might be a product of my ancestors, but I am also the speaker of my own name“.

The New 11 Commandments of Relocating Overseas
International School Community
Good piece with solid advice for those who will be relocating abroad. There’s a lot of overlap with things I suggest in my Six Tips for a Good Transition. One piece of advice from this post I particularly appreciated was the suggestion of combining old and new – mixing new experiences with familiar comforts. What a great approach! “try to combine an appreciation of new cuisine and dishes with some of your old dietary staples.” My summary of these “11 commandments” is as follows: Be positive, be flexible, be teachable, be lighthearted, be understanding. Expect the adjustment to take a long time. Look for encouragement and comfort – both here and there. Lean on supports.

Forbidden Roots
A Life Overseas
I was deeply touched by this piece which boldly faces the problem that comes with putting down roots in an adopted home: one day, I will have to leave the place I have made my home.
I am not a citizen, or even an immigrant. My passport is still American blue; Tanzania is not my country…Yet the thought of leaving someday fills me with an intense grief, knowing that it will tear away part of my being. Not just a loss of place, but a loss of who I am. The experience has become real life. Which is a good thing, of course. It’s what every expat should want to attain. But it’s also a tragic thing. It’s like coming to the realization that I’ve fallen in love with something that I can’t keep.

Dig Deep and Shine On
I Am A Triangle
A hopeful and encouraging post about the ongoing need to build relationships when you live a life full of transition.
Eighteen months into my repatriation and new home, new perspective washes over me…I’m in a new place, making new friends (some are international friends) and loving new experiences. AND, it’s taken eighteen months! Over these past months to learn, grow and dig deep, I’ve made friends, added life experiences, and taken several trips. . .One of my people secrets is say “hello” to anyone within three feet of me. Some will return the “hello” and some may not. My personally coined mantra: people are faces until they’re your friends.

Sri Lankan expat enchanted by Ramadan in UAE
Gulf News
And finally, a little piece I appreciated, in which a Sri Lankan expat reflects on his first Ramadan in the UAE. Going from a muslim minority culture to a muslim majority culture made it a very different experience for him: “It gives a sense of togetherness as everyone becomes part of our fasting, iftar and suhour.