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

Change, transition, and why it’s hard

The past six months have been an insane season of transition for me. Comically enough, as I’ve been taking up speaking engagements in various countries the number one topic I’ve been engaged to speak on has been – you guessed it – transition. And now, of course, the northern hemisphere is in the throes of transition season – many people are moving on to new locations, and many more are watching them leave.

Transition is everywhere – all around us. But what is transition?

I find it helpful to contrast change and transition. They are related, but different.

Change is an event.

Transition is a process.

Change is an event. It is the moment in time when I go from this to that, here to there. It is when I leave, when my friend leaves me, when I start at a new school or new job, move into a new home. Transition is the process of anticipating and integrating that change.

As I wrote in Misunderstood:

Change is physical – a new location, a person who is physically absent. Transition is the process of handling the emotional fallout of physical changes

Change

Change is concrete. We can see it happen. We know what it is. But we still often underestimate the full impact of a change. One change is usually made up of a series of smaller changes. Perhaps hundreds of changes! And a big change, like moving locations, has multiple changes involved, each of which is made up of smaller changes.

For example, if I move to a new country, I experience a series of changes:

  • A new house
  • A new school/workplace
  • A new culture, and possibly a new language
  • A new environment
  • A new set of friends/acquaintances
  • A new way of living life

But each of these big changes is made up of a lot of smaller changes. For example, I often ask students to list the changes that are part of starting at a new school. They include:

  • How to get there – walk? ride a bike? bus? parent drop off?
  • What to wear – is there a uniform? what type?
  • What to eat – is lunch provided? do I bring my own?
  • Friends – the people you spend your whole day with
  • Environment – where do I play/hang out?
  • School layout – no longer familiar
  • Teaching style
  • Behaviour expectations
  • Language may be different, even it’s a different dialect of the same language (UK English vs American English, Argentine Spanish vs Colombian Spanish, etc.)

When I start at a new school, I am not experiencing one change – I am processing many different pieces of the new situation which are different. The same goes for a new house, a new neighbourhood, a new job, a new relationship – a new anything, really!

Transition

Transition is the process of adapting to change. A period of transition begins as soon as I know a change is coming. As soon as I learn that I’ll be changing schools, or as soon as my friend tells me she’s moving away – at that point my transition has begun. This means some transitions begin a long time before the change occurs. Sometimes a transition can actually begin AFTER a change, because I may not learn the change has happened until after the fact.

A period of transition continues until I am accustomed to and comfortable with my post-change life – when I have integrated those changes and my situation changes from “new” to “normal”.

As you might imagine, sometimes this can take a long, long time.

One of the problems many of us have with transition is we don’t accept how long the process can take. Adjusting to a new normal takes a lot of time, and in that period of transition life is a bit more difficult. Berating myself for not keeping up, pushing myself to “get over it”, or thinking there’s something wrong with me, only makes things harder.

Losing our automatics

One important unseen change that goes with any big change is that all the automatics are erased. In a new situation I don’t automatically know where to go, what to do, who to talk to, how to get things done. Everything I do requires deliberate thought and conscious effort.

Want to get dinner? Okay. How?

Want to cook? Okay. Where do you buy groceries in your new location? Are the same groceries available, or do you need to adapt? Do you have the language and currency required to buy groceries? Is the system of collecting and paying for groceries different to what you’re used to? Do you have the same cooking equipment avaialable, or do you need to learn to use a different kitchen? After sorting all this out, do you still have the energy to cook??

Want to order in? Okay. Who delivers in your new location? Is it food you’re familiar with, or will you need some guidance to order effectively? Do they use a language (and dialect) you’re familiar with? Do they require the use of apps or online payment – and do you have access to these? If they require cash on delivery – do you have enough local currency?

Want to go out to eat? Okay. Do you know any places to eat? Are they walking distance? Will you be comfortable walking (weather/safety/health)? If not, do you have transport? Then when you’re there you have all the same questions – familiarity, language, payment. ..

This is why a period of transition can be so very tiring.

Not everything will be this complicated – but they can be. If you move to a place where things are done very differently to the way you’re used to, almost everything can be this hard. Life in these big transitional phases is exhausting!

It takes much more time and mental energy to get simple things done, because they aren’t simple any more – and it will take time to learn the new ways to do things, and for basic tasks to become familiar and, eventually, simple once more.

Something I often struggle with during a period of transition is learning my new calming strategies – what will help me find peace, relax, enjoy life. The things I can do in Sydney, for example, are very different to the things I can do in Beijing. Many of the old options simply aren’t available to me any more – I have to find new ones. More than that, I have to create new ones. This is can be difficult and tiring and, more importantly, time consuming. I might try something, realise it doesn’t work, and have to start again trying something new.

So what do we do?

Next week I’ll share my Six Tips for a Good Transition. The sneak peek, however, is simply to be kind to yourself. Work to adapt to change, but be patient with the process.
Acknowledge that transition is hard, and takes time, and be okay with not being at your best for a while – and probably for longer than you’d like!

Recommended Reading: June 18th, 2018

Welcome to this week’s edition of Recommended Reading! The posts I’m recommending this week concern parenting. I think it’s worth pointing out that posts about parenting aren’t just for parents. They have lessons to offer others, too. A lot of these posts aren’t specifically for expats, but they have a lot to speak to the expat experience. I’m not a parent myself, but I often find that parenting posts have a lot to offer me, too. They help me understand parents’ perspectives, and as I work with young people a lot that is helpful too, but they also can have helpful messages for me personally in my own situation. Each of these posts are worth reading no matter what your individual situation is.

Two Challenges That Homeschooling Families Face on the Field
A Life Overseas
I love this post by Elizabeth. She starts with a quote and idea from the homeschooling section of Misunderstood, then expands and explains it beautifully. Honestly, if I ever release a revised edition of Misunderstood I’ll probably want to quote this article in a revamped homeschooling section! I thought this quote was particularly telling:
I had sufficient time to home school, I felt equipped to home school, and I wanted to home school. We still needed more support than we had been receiving.”

A Sense of Home: Raising International Children With Irish Hearts
Huffington Post
I had a bittersweet feeling as I read this post. I appreciate so much the work of parents like these to help their children connect to their heritage country. I love that this mother recognises the power of experiences, sights and sounds and tastes, to create a sense of home. I love that she recognises that “home” is multi-faceted for her international children. But I can’t help but hope that she also knows that the oh-so-important experiential connections she is fostering between her children and her homeland will be different to hers. I hope she understands that yes, she is ensuring her children “will always know that they are Irish and that Ireland is their home“, but that this might mean something very different to them. It’s such a tricky balance! TCKs benefit so much from strong experiential connections to their heritage cultures, but at the same time, those connections don’t add up to the same experience as growing up in that one place.

10 Things to Expect When You Take TCKs “Home”
Taking Route
I really appreciate this insightful and sensitive piece by Emily Jackson – and it is an appropriate follow on from the post I just mentioned. Emily writes about what happens inside TCKs when they go “home” to a passport country they haven’t lived in for a long time. Everything on the list is good, but number 3, “Pop-up Processing”, really stood out to me:
“They were probably too young to form it into words when it was happening, or it was so much a part of their everyday life that they never stopped to think if they liked it or not. Once you’re out of the culture a bit, those thoughts and emotions have a chance to bubble up and get processed, and might pop out when you’re least expecting them.”

The transition we travelers rarely talk about
Lola Akinmade
Award winning travel photographer Lola Akinmade discusses the struggle to balance the need to travel with the need to spend time with family. She comes to a lovely conclusion – that travel is about attitude to place, and that this attitude of curiosity and discovery can be applied wherever we are, on short trips and during long stays: “Wherever I find myself for extended periods of time. I don’t just exist in a place. I need to get beneath it, understand how it flows culturally, and learn from it. I don’t just quietly exist in Sweden. I explore it deeply.

Be Fearless! Pass On Your Heritage Language and Culture To Your Children
Multicultural Kid Blogs
As I travel and speak to parents in different countries, I am frequently asked about engaging children in the parents’ language/s. Some worry that this could be a hindrance to their kids. Others are disappointed in their kids’ lack of interest in learning a heritage language. The main piece of advice I give is that it always helps for kids to have access to their heritage languages (looking back they may regret not learning them, or may try to go back to them) but forcing a child to study something against their will always backfires. Therefore, the best thing you can do is find ways to make the language part of family life. This post is a great encouragement to parents who want to engage their kids linguistically, but feel unsure of how to do this. Amanda “Miss Panda” gives lots of simple, practical advice. She also points out that language is not just language – it is about culture, about ways we connect to a cultural community. Helping your child absorb a language is about so much more than the words you speak.

Should I Stop Speaking my Native Language with my Children?
Bilinguistics
And on that subject, this article lays out a lot of research related to bilingualism in children, aimed at giving solid advice to parents who are worried about the impact of language on a child’s development. Lots of references to different research in the area – fantastic resource!

Expat parents in Belgium: how to help your children with homework when you don’t speak the language
Expatica
For many families, the choice to live internationally means children will not be educated in the family’s home language. This can add an extra stress to parents who feel ill-equipped to help with their kids’ school work. This stress can also build up over time, as students begin to do more advanced reading and writing, with linguistic quirks beyond the parents’ grasp. This article is based in Belgium, but the concepts and advice offered are applicable beyond Belgium.

Parents, Know Thyselves In Your Child’s College Admission Process
Forbes
While the article itself is not expat/TCK specific, this is an important topic for a lot of expats. There is a high expectation that TCKs will go to university, often in different countries (where parents are less familiar with the system). Both TCKs and their parents can feel a lot of pressure to apply to (and attend) the “best” schools. This article has some good tips for parents about how to engage with the college application process – and how not to. Advice includes working with (not against) guidance counsellors, and stepping back to allow kids to own the process, and the decision making. I found this quote particularly helpful:
It all comes down to trusting that you’ve done your job as a parent up to this point. Of course, you’ll have doubts and worries, moments of panic and a sense that you’re losing control of your student. And in a genuine sense, you are, but not chaotically, just in the natural process of separation.

A revealing review of Misunderstood

misundertood-3d-cover.jpgRecently Expat Bookshop published a lovely review of Misunderstood by Youth Intercultural Transition Specialist Jane Barron of Globally Grounded.

Jane does a great job of explaining what Misunderstood is: who it’s for, what material is covered, and the flow of the content.

What struck me most about her review, however, is how she went to the heart of the intent with which I wrote.

What sets this book apart from others in the global transition genre is the way Tanya brings research, perspective and solutions together. She identifies the challenge, fear or feeling “many TCKs believe others cannot, or will not, understand,” then underpins it with research and wisdom from experts in the field and articulates it using anecdotes from TCKs and Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs). For each challenge, Tanya provides solutions and strategies for parents/ caregivers to support their TCK, so those challenges do not become traumatic but instead serve as springboards for growth.

She’s hit the nail on the head here. I wholeheartedly believe in the many advantages and opportunities that go with an international childhood. I am also all too aware of the corresponding challenges. My goal is to equip carers (and TCKs themselves) with tools, and a perspective, that will help them tackle those challenges effectively – so they aren’t left as speed bumps to trip them up, or land mines coming back to create trouble later on.

But the most striking part of Jane’s review was her clear understanding of the book’s title. I had planned to write a blog post of my own talking about this – but maybe I don’t need to anymore!

The title of the book, Misunderstood, may lead readers to assume the contents are negative in nature but in fact it is very balanced. This word, misunderstood, was repeated over and over in interviews and conversations Tanya had with TCKs yet the book provides an insight into the heads, hearts and souls of children growing up overseas to dispel any misunderstanding. It bridges the gap between TCKs feeling misunderstood and adults trying to understand. TCKs reading this book will identify with the words ‘spoken’ by other TCKs and perhaps find a vocabulary to express their emotions and find a sense of belonging. Parents, educators and other caregivers will gain the understanding TCKs desperately need and want in order to encourage, equip and support them to “develop into emotionally mature adults,” either abroad or at home. Misunderstood is a book of hope and one I would highly recommend for all TCKs and those who care for them.

Yes, yes, and YES. I felt strongly that the title “Misunderstood” was the best way to stay true to the stories that were entrusted to me by hundreds of TCKs. But that title is not a curse, and it is not the way things must inevitably be. It is instead a starting point: that of stopping to acknowledge the way so many TCKs (young and old) feel, or have felt, as a result of their international childhood experiences. To understand TCKs, we must first listen to them, to their stories. We must stop to hear their feelings – even if they are uncomfortable. Only then can we begin to move from misunderstanding to understanding. Yes, Misunderstood is intended to be a book of hope – that no TCK need always be misunderstood, and that non-TCKs really can learn to understand how TCKs see the world.

Read Jane’s full review on Expat Bookshop.

Recommended reading: June 11th, 2018

Three weeks of Recommended Reading in a row! Quite an achievement, wouldn’t you say? I am definitely enjoying getting into a rhythm of reading and writing, starting to feel more at ease in my new life. Not to mention my new workspace (having not really had one for most of the last six months), and my new computer (the previous one having been dropped or stepped on or *something* during the wedding week craziness back in February). But back to the topic at hand – some great posts about TCKs and expat life that have inspired, challenged, or otherwise interested me lately.

Embracing the Good in Goodbye
TCK Town
I’m starting with a lovely little piece on saying goodbye – always relevant, but especially at this time of year. Solène expresses the different layers of goodbyes, which she calls: “an inherent part of living beyond borders. Goodbye to a place that was home for a while. Goodbye to the people who brought it to life. Goodbye to a version of yourself.” In her advice on goodbyes she recommends we reflect on time and treasures – both the experiences, and the physical tokens. Farewell people and places and experiences, and embrace the emotions. “I couldn’t help but be temporarily overwhelmed.” Then look forward to the future – future plans, future adventures, and even future reunions.

Top 10 ways to help your students say goodbye
Valérie Besanceney
Valérie is always amazing; she’s my go-to resource when thinking/talking about how to support primary school TCKs. This Top 10 list is a great example of why. It’s written with teachers in mind but there is good stuff here for everyone. I particularly love her first and last points. First – “comfort rather than encourage“. I talk about this concept a lot. When a child is upset we want to make them feel better – but we cannot ‘fix’ the changes they are experiencing. The best thing we can do is listen, offer comfort for how they feel, not try to jump in immediately with encouragements they aren’t ready to hear (even if they’re true). And Valerie’s last point: to reach out to those who have left a few months after their departure. As she writes, “Let them know you do care, that they are remembered, and that they matter. You are likely to make a much bigger difference than you imagine.

Mother’s Day from Miles Away
Thoughts Of A Third Culture Kid
I know Mother’s Day (for the US and Australia, at least) was a month ago, but this post is not to be missed. In it Adri reflects on the difficulty of being far from family on special occasions: “I put on a big smile and partook in festivities from this great distance, but internally, it utterly devastated me to not be there“. But what makes this post really special is that she goes on to discuss the importance of letting us feel those feelings – that it is valid to miss family far away, even though life is good and we are doing well. This is such an important message for TCKs, and I think for all expats as well. Here’s a bit of her great take on this:

Sometimes I get tired of looking at things with optimism. I think it’s okay for people to just feel how they feel and not be pressured to feel anything other than whatever emotion holds them hostage in that moment. We need to normalize the release of emotions, validate them and let people thaw out in their own time. If my job (that I adore) has taught me anything, it’s to let the pressure gauge release slowly. It’s healthy, actually. See, I miss my family every day, and that’s okay. I am still a high-functioning adult with responsibilities, job security, building a network, being social, trying to do my best on a daily basis. And because of that, I get to be tired and upset on days like this because it’s normal to not be okay one hundred percent of the time.

5 PCS Strategies for Navigating the Space Between Leaving and Arriving
InDependent
Jodi Harris of World Tree Coaching (who also featured in last week’s Recommended Reading) does a great job here of pointing out positives in the space in between leaving and arriving. As she writes, “It’s an incredibly unique place of limbo and it can feel daunting and overwhelming.” I love all her tips, but I must admit I found the last one challenging and therefore a bit uncomfortable. I need to get comfortable with ambiguity? It’s okay to not know everything? Noooo!!! Good to know I still have more to learn, hey? For my own sanity I’m going to leave that aside for the time being, and instead share with you my favourite piece of advice from this post: “Transition is not the time to go it alone. We’re not strong and resilient because we don’t reach out and ask for help, we’re strong and resilient because we do.”

If You Had a Few Weeks to Live, Where Would You Go?
Communicating Across Boundaries
Yet another week finds me reflecting on something beautiful penned by Marilyn Gardner. This time she is reflecting on a difficult question: if you had a few weeks to live, where would you go? She points out that for many people who, for many reasons, live in between lives, “Merely asking the question can make one anxious. How can I pick one place?” She mentions different people who have pointed to a single place, but then takes her readers on a sensory journey, a tour of the places that have shaped her and still speak to her: “even when given a limited time period, I can’t pick just one place. I still choose to live between. At the deepest core, I am a nomad who can’t contain the worlds within, nor would I want to. The exercise shows me that I would not choose any other life or any other way, and my heart fills with gratitude. I am too fortunate.”

25 Things They Don’t Put in the Life Abroad Brochure
A Life Overseas
Hmmm, I seem to be developing a pattern. That’s three repeat authors in one post – albeit writing in different places! But really, Marilyn and Jerry write so much great stuff so consistently, we should probably all be following them by now anyway. But, back on topic, and there’s no way I can sum up this latest list from Jerry, with his characteristic blend of comedy and right-to-the-heart reality. So instead, here are a few of my favourite points from the list:

1. Some days the most adventurous thing you’ll do is wash dishes.
5. You should embrace ignorance
12. Foreign people can be irritating
13. You’re the foreigner now
19. You can love two places
22. You’re probably going to act like an idiot

Mo! Sibyl: A Tale of Two Countries – Between Nigeria & South Korea
Bella Naija
In this interesting post Nigerian expat Mo’lanee Sibyl looks at South Korea’s development path and how that could work for Nigeria. But what I appreciated most was the way the author began by explaining her perspective. These reflections come following a recent visit to Nigeria, which brought the Nigeria she carries with her everywhere into conflict with the Nigeria she saw in real life: “I tend to adopt a romantic approach to talking about Nigeria, conflating her positives and almost very selectively leaving out the negatives. For those Nigerians like me, reality sets in when we make the sojourn back home.” I think this is something many expatriates find ourselves doing. She also makes an insightful comment about how return visits affect our thinking: “Returning to Nigeria after my protracted absence meant that everything I saw was magnified, especially her social issues, because I now had a base reference to make comparisons.” Experiencing other cultures in action gives expats a “base reference” by which to see our own cultures from the outside, to see other possibilities, because we now know life can be lived another way.

The Content Creator: Ayana Wyse [Osaka, Japan]
The Black Expat
In some ways, this is just an interview with a person telling their expat story – but it’s more than that. It’s the voice of someone who has experienced being a minority both in her passport country and now in her host country. She shared the difficulty of making friends that transcend cultural difference, especially when someone sees you for your appearance rather than for your self. It’s so important to listen to a variety of expatriate experiences and stories, so I try to deliberately go out there and actively look for those diverse voices – not passively assume (or hope) they will find their way to me.

 

Should you raise your kids overseas?

I was recently interviewed by Education Rickshaw for an article called “Should you raise your kids overseas?”

Education Rickshaw is a blog aimed at international teachers, with lots of information about teaching (and learning) overseas. I met one of the authors when I was speaking in Khartoum, Sudan, back in April. We had a great conversation and he raised some thoughtful questions from his own perspective as a teacher of TCKs and a not-yet-parent thinking about what it might mean to raise kids overseas. We continued the conversation after my return to Beijing through an interview on the subject.

The resulting blog post includes extensive quotes from that interview. A lot of what I shared is applicable to all families, not just educators. There is information for families already raising kids abroad, and also for those weighing their options.

Toward the end is a section specific to international educators. There is a sub-section of Misunderstood that addresses the experience of children of international school teachers, and I quote one of the TCKs I interviewed for the book.

Now {spoiler alert} here is my conclusion on the titular question: should you raise your kids overseas?

Now for the big question. Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of being raise overseas? According to Tanya, “there are many advantages to the experience of growing up overseas, and I think it’s overall a positive experience. Most TCKs agree. I surveyed 750 TCKs for my book; over 80% said they were glad to be TCKs, and 90% said they were thankful for their international experiences. Yes, there are challenges to being an international family, but with awareness these challenged can be addressed and managed. I definitely think the journey is worth it, especially where parents are committed to providing their children with emotional resources and tools – not just material ones.”

Read the full article at Education Rickshaw

Recommended reading: June 4th, 2018

I’m still playing catch up in sharing great things I’ve been reading lately, so this is mix of new posts and posts I read in the past month or so. There’s so much good stuff being written every week! This includes a lot of topics that are especially helpful at this time of year, where so many expats are dealing with transition – whether they are leaving, or friends are leaving. Which brings me to the first post I’m recommending today…

We’re moving…again! Our big news about a big adventure
And then we moved to
While this is a post about one family announcing an upcoming move, it’s also so much more. In her typically wonderful style, Mariam invites us into the difficulties of making the decision to move – the ideas, the suggestions, the possibilities, the living in limbo, the offers, and how to make the decision. Her “Three Phases of ‘We Are Moving'” are brilliant. There is so much here to help any family who is in the process, or knows it will be coming their way in the future.

To My Adult TCK self: I See You
A Life Overseas
This is a hauntingly beautiful piece, reflecting on some of the hidden layers of an adult TCK – the ways an international childhood overlays an adulthood in which those experiences may be invisible. So much of this echoes words, phrases, and feelings I heard in many interviews with ATCKs for Misunderstood. A highly recommended read.

The Magic Quilt of Expat Life
Wine and Cheese (Doodles)
Lovely post reflecting on the sadness of saying goodbye (repeatedly) in an expat context, and one woman’s change of mind – that crying during these sad times is good. She beautifully captures how those endless goodbye parties can feel, but also that there is such beauty in the recognition of relationships that have become deep.
These ritual goodbyes and all the emotions they evoke is a kind of exquisite torture. It’s incredibly poignant to hear stories and reminiscences, to look at years worth of pictures, to see the evolution of expat friendships play out in celluloid. It’s like watching a time-lapse of a child growing up. . .So many times those stories start off with feelings of loneliness and isolation, feeling stranded and out-of-place, nervous, unsure footing on choppy seas that are taking you far away from everything you know. And then the magic: one day, one coffee, one conversation, one friend. The tide begins to turn. The seas calm.

HALT – Four Simple Questions for Expat Stress
I Am A Triangle
This one hit home for me! Frequently in the past few months of transition and upheaval and never being quite settled in anything I have hit huge emotional speed bumps. The temptation to question every decision and hate everything comes on strong in those overwhelmed moments! I’m definitely planning to keep  Jodi’s HALT acronym in mind for next time. It will be good to have a few tools in my toolbox beside telling myself “it’s transition, and tiredness, you’ll feel better tomorrow””.

So, You Want to go Back ‘Home’?
Communicating Across Boundaries
Marilyn penned a beautiful piece about the inherent tension in visiting a place you once lived, and place that is an important part of your story. Trying to pick a single quote was impossible, so instead of trying to explain how valuable this post is, here is just a handful of many powerful words from it:
The words ‘Visit’ and ‘Live’ are worlds apart. . .While in a sense we are going ‘home’, in another sense we are just visiting. We have changed, as have the places that we love so dearly. My daughter once wrote that we belong to these lands where we lived, but they do not belong to us. . .Going back is a critical part of your story. Embrace it, don’t waste it, Because this I know, and I know it well: More difficult than a visit would have been no visit at all, far harder than facing my current reality would have been dreaming of the past in a country far removed and never getting to experience my beloved places again.”

Expat Life: Where is Home When You Live Abroad?
Migrating Miss
I really like this little reflection on ways overseas experiences change us, and change the way we experience the world. There are lots of good little lines I considered sharing, but this is the bit that stuck out most as something I think many of us (myself included) can relate to:
I find that being an expat can almost be like being two people at the same time. Each life feels comfortable and familiar when you’re in it, but there’s always a little something missing too. It’s an otherworldly feeling to think that your two lives can never ever merge into one, no matter how much you wish they could. . .Each home I’ve had abroad has changed me in some way.

Self-Compassion and Helping your Child Thrive During a Relocation
Expat Kids Club
I appreciated this little post from Kate about self-compassion for TCKs. “Helping expat kids build self compassion not only has positive effects on those around them, but also helps to build their own ability to be kind and resilient in the face of life’s challenges.” I especially appreciate her recognition that in this, as in so many things, it’s vital for adults to model the emotional tools we want our kids to pick up.

How to Drive an Expat Crazy: 10 Ways to Irritate Someone Who Has Lived Abroad
The Culture Blend
And here’s a somewhat lighter (but all-too-real) note on which to finish: another brilliant piece from Jerry Jones. (Honestly, if you aren’t already a regular reader of The Culture Blend, you probably should be.) A tongue-in-cheek look at the well-meaning but ultimately frustrating things many expats experience at the hands of loved ones during a visit ‘home’. Such as number six:
Ask, “How was that?” That’s it. One simple question. It’s like magic. “Wow, Zimbabwe for 12 years . . . how was that?” Then stand there and watch them try to summarize ALL of the joy and pain before you lose interest. They LITERALLY CANNOT do it. Classic.”
But the real beauty of this piece is the alternative advice offered – “Ask smaller questions that leave room for nuance. Find out about a typical day in their lives, their struggles with language or what community was like.

Well that’s it for this edition of Recommended Reading – more coming next week!

Homesickness, and the price we pay to be expats

I read an article a couple months back in which an Australian living abroad talked about how to deal with homesickness as an adult. As an Australian who has spent most of my adult life overseas, there was a lot in it I related to! Author Kate Leaver beautifully captures the tension of loving the life I live, while still missing the things I’ve left behind.

I am settled here, in my new London life. I am contentedly nuzzled into life and love and work here. And yet – and yet! – I find myself, recently, feeling homesick. Some days, I can feel those 12,500 kilometres in my heart. Especially when something happens to someone I love back home

She also articulated something I hadn’t thought through properly before: “homesickness feels kind of silly as an adult. It seems like the kind of thing you grow out of, the kind of thing you leave behind in childhood“.

Wow – reading that I felt the truth of it. It’s hard to leave space to accept and process our homesickness when we feel somehow weak or childish for feeling that way.

She goes on to share advice from psychologist Doctor Perpetua Neo. The advice she gives is simple but solid: be kind to yourself, get involved in life where you live. These are, simply stated, two of the six tips for transition which I offer in seminars I teach. This advice applies to expats generally but also the repats – those of us who go through the wringer of returning to a ‘home’ country after an extended period abroad. It applies to the person who leaves, and applies to the person who stays.

The price we pay

There’s one thing I’d add, though, when it comes to feeling homesick as an adult expatriate: this is part of the price tag.

By that I mean, recognise that by living overseas you pay a real price, and keep choosing to pay it. Take the time to acknowledge what you lose by being far away – those losses are real! But don’t stop there. Remember why you chose to be where you are. Meditate on all the things you gain, think about the life you have, think about what you’d lose if you weren’t where you are. Yes, living overseas comes with a cost – but we pay that price because we gain something else in return. Say to yourself “knowing this is the price I must pay to gain all these things, will I willingly pay it?”

(Years ago I wrote about learning this myself in my late twenties, as I wrestled with my changing accent.)

There are two sides to this. First, the cost is real. The fact that I choose to pay the price doesn’t change the fact that it costs me something – something real. In my first years overseas, expressing my sadness at this cost often led to comments from my sisters about how “you chose this!” That was true, but it didn’t change the fact that I was sad about missing this event, or seeing that person. (Strangely enough, those comments stopped after they each moved across the country themselves!) They were right – it was my choice. But my choice came with a cost, and it hurt, even as I chose to pay it.

Secondly, it is a choice, and that reframes the loss and pain of paying the price. I don’t just lose something – I have given up something good (many good things) in order to gain something I have deemed better.

When we hold these two things together – both the reality of the cost, and the reality of my choice to pay it – we can integrate these difficult emotions, and come to a place of peace. A space where feelings are recognised as valid, and given expression, but also seen within the perspective of decisions made for good reasons.

How does this work for TCKs?

One last thing that’s worth mentioning here: this outlines one of the big differences between the experience of adult expatriates and that of Third Culture Kids. A TCK moves overseas due to a parent’s choice, not their own. They don’t have the comfort of knowing they chose this themselves, for a good reason. They may see and understand their parents’ decisions – may even have been consulted in the decision making process. Even when they agree with the decision, however, there is a powerlessness in having had this childhood chosen on their behalf.

That is the reality of all children, really – whether a family chooses to stay in one place or move, both miss out on the other experience. But still, the fact that the power to make the decision rests with parents means that TCKs experience international life differently. They did not choose to pay a price in order to gain something else – growing up overseas is simply the childhood they were presented with. It is their normal.

Recommended reading: May 27th, 2018

Wow I’m behind on sharing my recommended reading! But I’m in transition and, as I tell everyone else, that takes more time and energy than any of us give ourselves credit for. So I’m going to go ahead and post these thoughts I wrote a month ago and managed not to post at the time and I’m *not* going to feel bad about that delay. One day I will find myself some sort of regular routine, but since this week is my first chance to BEGIN that process, it’s totally fine that a routine doesn’t yet exist!

So, without further ado (or excuses for lateness) here are some great posts I read last month!

Two suitcases, maybe three… and the gift of lettuce
Notes on a boarding pass
Poignant reflections on leaving – the overwhelming list of farewells and changes that add up; thinking through what will be left behind, and lost; the extra stress in not knowing what will happen next… This is wonderful writing, the kind that helps the reader see and feel another’s experience. I ached with the familiarity of my own recent transitions and months spent living out of suitcases.

When you’re a local again, don’t forget the expats
The expat partner’s survival guide
A lovely vignette, and a good point! We who know what it’s like to be the new person, the outsider, the one struggling in a new place, language, or culture – we above all others should be quick to reach out and welcome others.

For the least of these
Velvet Ashes
Beautiful piece from missionary mum (and adult Missionary Kid) Joy, writing about the importance of connecting with her kids, not letting them get lost in the pressures of ministry life. Many MKs I interviewed spoke of feeling less important than their parents’ work, and in this piece Joy focuses on something so important for these kids: “It shouldn’t be a surprise that MKs struggle with our relationship to God. After all, God is the one who is responsible for the repetitive losses throughout our lives. It is essential that I am intentional in building the foundation of attachment and trust, so that, when the time comes to question their faith and their God, they will be absolutely assured of their value.

Expats beware: losing confidence in your mother tongue could cost you a job
Conversation
Interesting piece about language attrition, and how this impacts adults. A key point is that language changes over time. Our use of language, especially spoken, changes rapidly. If you have been away 20 years, the rules that govern what is appropriate may well have changed. This is a concern for immigrant kids, too – many learn an “outdated” version of the language, based on how it was spoken decades earlier when the parents left. I particularly appreciate Monika’s first tip for those concerned about manage attrition: “”Always have all documents you submit checked by a fully competent native speaker who is currently living there.” That last phrase is key – check your command of the language against someone currently living in the place, with that instinctive knowledge of how it “feels”.”

Smells like home
The New York Times
A lovely little piece considering the powerful trigger of smell in conjuring up a sense of ‘home’. I love this quote in particular: “I remember my mother’s comment about how the smells of my childhood would remind me of home, and home, I now know, is a place that exists not on a map but in my mind, ready to appear in its full, smelly glory at any moment.

How To Connect With Your Multicultural Community
Multicultural Kid Blogs
I loved this piece on connecting to multicultural communities, wherever you live! Johana points out some key reasons we don’t do this: “I have noticed that it is actually quite hard. For one, our cultures can seem very segregated, by languages, color, or social class. Secondly, we are constantly busy with our everyday lives and obligations. It is easy to go home after a hard day and immerse yourself in only the things that are immediately around you. It is a comfort zone.” Then she outlines some great practical advice on how to get out there and broaden your (family’s) horizons.

A History of Nomadism
Colorado Review
I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this longform piece by Megan Harlan, but I am oh-so-glad that I did. In it she reflects on what it means to be a nomad, both in the traditional desert-dweller sense, and in the modern TCK sense. She makes fascinating comparisons – similarities and contrasts. She expresses poignant thoughts on the impact of her own nomadic childhood. She ponders the nomad’s dilemma: “how to sculpt from rootlessness an identifiable, meaningful universe? Or, put more unnervingly: how do we attach meaning to constant change?” It is a long piece, and worth making the time for a long, slow read, considering and savouring the different elements she identifies and reflects on. Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite:

Like traditional pastoral nomads, my sense of home was as temporary as a campsite. But unlike them, my family’s “campsites” — our homes — were never revisited. No seasonal structure directed my family’s movements; no terrain was deemed ours. . .So like any nomadic child, I learned to apprehend places differently than settled people. During all the travel, as each of my homes was replaced by another, again, another, again, those seventeen times, the world loosened for me into flexible components: the view from another kitchen window, shadows cast by unfamiliar trees, my self refracted through more strangers in a new classroom. Patchwork, scraps, jumble—these fragments pieced into a perspective that lacked a solid middle distance; that place we take for granted to be “real life” kept disappearing on me. . .When people ask where I’m from, my answer is always in some way a lie, not that I mean it to be. I don’t know where I’m from, but who wants to hear that?

Graduation season

In the northern hemisphere it is graduation season, and around the world lots of TCKs are leaving countries that feel like home.

Some will be moving to countries they have a passport for, but feel foreign in.

Some will be moving to countries they consider home, and long to return to.

Some will be moving to new countries, in the familiar role as “foreigner”.

Some will become part of the visible majority for the first time.

Some will stand out for their appearance in a way that hasn’t happened before.

Some are focused on logistics – on preparing paperwork and possessions.

Some feel stuck in the grief of all they must leave behind.

Some are excited to launch out into a new life.

Some are terrified of all the change that is upon them.

Some feel the finality of this move. Life will never be the same again.

Many are overwhelmed by all the goodbyes – leaving people and places they love.

Most are a jumble of mixed emotions.

Several TCKs I interviewed for Misunderstood said high school graduation was one of the most difficult experiences of their lives.

One said: “Graduation was, to date, the hardest thing I’ve been through. Everyone around me kept saying that college would be the best years of my life, but I couldn’t see how that could be true.

Another said: “The biggest and longest period of grief I have experienced is when I graduated high school. I knew that I was not only leaving a place but a lifestyle.

And finally, one last quote: “If home is where the heart is then after we all graduate my home will be in Korea and America and other places I’ve never been to, because that’s where my friends will be.

So what do we do with all this? How do we help the TCKs we love as they move through this season full of goodbyes and hellos? I could write (and have spoken) about this at length, and maybe in the future I will write about it here. For now, however, I’m going to lean on the wisdom of others. I’ve pulled together some resources from various places that I think may be helpful both for graduates and for those of us who love them:

Graduation Gifts for your TCK (Communicating Across Boundaries)
This post was part of the inspiration for mine. In it the always wonderful Marilyn brings together a wealth of gift ideas along with reasons they can be helpful. I was honoured to see Misunderstood listed as one of eight excellent books on her list of suggestions.

The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition (Tina L. Quick)
Marilyn includes this book in her list, but it’s worth its own mention here as well. This is a book I recommend a lot, and it includes lots of great practical advice for TCKs heading toward university.

7 Thoughts for Graduating TCKs (A Life Overseas)
Elizabeth writes to graduating TCKs, sharing seven really helpful things to keep in mind – such as delayed processing, accepting paradox, grief, and the need for grace.

You are not special – a graduation address (Michele Phoenix)
This is a wonderful (fictional) graduation address for TCKs as they go out into the world. It sounds harsh, but it’s really not. Michele points out a potential pitfall TCKs can fall into and explains that “it’s easy to confuse being fortunate with being better.”

Third Culture Kids – From Overseas to Undergrad (RNG International)
Helpful insights into what the transition may look like on the other side for those going into university after high school, with some practical suggestions and thoughts from TCKs.

And finally, a good resource that applies to some is Interaction International – who run re-entry seminars for TCKs moving to the US.

 

Recommended reading: April 17, 2018

I’ve read a lot of great expat and TCK related articles in the last week. Here’s a taste of some of my favourites…

Searching for a Motherland as a Black Latina
Huffington Post
I lovelovelove this beautiful piece about a woman searching for a place that embraces her multiple connections, a place that could be her home. The emotion of her search will resonate with CCKs everywhere.
For Afro-Latinx of the U.S., there is no place from which to return. We are like magical black unicorns no one knows exist or endeavor to acknowledge. Even the term Afro-Latino is contentious, a relatively new denomination heavy with the baggage of colonialism… Our plurality is not our deficiency — it is our fortitude and great fortune. As Americans, black people and Latinx, theory of true globalism is writ across our DNA. So let us leave footprints around the globe, accepting that home is everywhere and nowhere.

Moving your children abroad: tips for an easier transition
Multicultural kid blogs
This is an excellent post about preparing to move your kids overseas. So much good advice here, including practical tips. (A lot of this same stuff came up in a seminar for transitioning families I ran in Tanzania last week.) Highlights include: nurturing both the parent-to-parent relationship and the parent-to-child relationship; ways to get kids thinking about the new place; and ways to help kids farewell the place they’re leaving.

Saying goodbye to the little red dot
Megan Williams
Very sweet piece of nostalgia from a TCK preparing to leave her home abroad – Singapore. I appreciate the way she reflects on how difficult the initial move overseas was, but how thankful she is in hindsight for all that came with it.All in all, I count my blessings every day that I have had this opportunity, and can’t thank my parents enough for being brave enough to uproot our lives and start fresh out there.

10 things to know about teenage Third Culture Kids (TCKs)
China Family Blog
Simple but good. An accurate list of things that are true in most teenage TCKs. I write about a lot of it this in Misunderstood – these aren’t character traits, but rational reactions to the experiences of Third Culture life. I particularly appreciated point 9, about TCKs’ need for stability and routine, with suggestions for how this might be achieved even in the uncertainties of international life.

Stop blaming your host country for all of your issues
The Culture Blend
I know I linked to a TCB article last week as well, but I couldn’t go past this great piece. Jerry points out a common expat blind spot, gently but firmly, and explains why this is dangerous for us. Taking the easy way out and blaming a whole country for my bad day sets me on a path to a destination I don’t want to end up in.

What no one tells you about living abroad
Coveteur
Lovely little piece about reverse culture shock, the unexpected shock of feeling foreign in the place you used to call home. But the author also talks about falling in love with sleeps home all over again. We have to get to know our old haunts all over again when we come back.

How much otherness can we take?
Ute’s International Lounge
Interesting reflections on research showing that “living abroad affects the fundamental structure of the self-concept by enhancing its clarity“. This makes sense, if there is engagement and reflection upon the differences between cultural constructs: “living in other parts of the world encourages us to reflect on the various cultural values and norms that we encounter both at home and in the host cultures.