The hidden currents of cross cultural education

Cross cultural schooling happens when a child’s education is conducted in a language their parent is not a native speaker of, or is based in a culture their parent did not grow up in.

There are several ways that this can happen. A family (whether local or expatriate) may enrol their child in an international school that follows the curriculum of a different country, or conducts classes in a language the parents are not familiar with.

When local families enrol in international schools, they create Educational CCKs (EdCCKs). EdCCKs live in their passport country but attend a school of a different language/culture. Educational CCKs cross cultures every day. They operate in one culture at home, and a different culture at school.

Alternatively, an expatriate family may enrol their child in a local school, in the local culture and language. (This was my experience as an Australian teenager in the US.)

22% of the 750 TCKs I surveyed for Misunderstood were educated in a language they did not speak natively; 7% were educated in a language their parents did not speak. Those figures double, to 40% and 15%, for TCKs who attended local schools.*

“I attended local school at a young age, and adapted well. Studies were more difficult compared to local students as my parents didn’t know the language – homework took longer etc. I did essentially keep up with the class for the two and a half years I was there.”
– Jeremy, as quoted in Misunderstood

There can certainly be linguistics difficulties when it comes to cross cultural schooling. Some families (and schools) do a better job than others at supporting students with this. Language is an aspect of cross-cultural education that is more obvious on the outside – but it is only part of the equation.

Adaptation to school culture

Schools teach more than academic information – they teach values and worldview. In a cross cultural educational setting the teachers and/or school administration may hold very different educational values than students or parents.

At the start, a new student must pick up a new school culture. In a cross cultural school, both obvious and hidden cultural expectations may be very different from the CCK’s last school. Over time, however, the child adapts to the school’s cultural expectations. And since the child spends more time in the school, and in its worldview, than the parents – a gap may begin to develop between parent and child.

The student may have to translate school expectations according to a parent’s different cultural expectations – even if they speak the school’s language.

Parents may be surprised by a child’s changing attitude, as they absorb elements of the school culture.

But these changes are natural, and perhaps inevitable. Cross cultural schooling means your child is being trained to see the world differently than you do.

Impact of cross cultural schooling on families

Many parents enrol their children in cross cultural schools for practical reasons. Perhaps there are no good school options in the family’s language/culture. Perhaps the family shares the schools values, even if they are not in line with norms of the family’s native culture. Perhaps the parents see the school as a pathway toward better educational and vocational options for their child. Whatever the reason, few parents are prepared for the long term impact cross cultural schooling will have on their family life.

Values are not always taught in obvious ways; often we simply absorb them as what is “normal”. Children in cross cultural education are absorbing more than academics when they are at school – they are absorbing values. Most children spend more waking hours in school than with their parents. In addition, if an expat they may not be exposed to their home culture at all in daily life outside the home. It’s possible that the school’s cultural values may become what feels most “natural” to the child.

Down the track, this can result in conflict between parent and child. Each judges the other according to their cultural values – and when the child has absorbed the cultural values of the school, this leads to a culture gap.

A child may perceive their parent’s expectations as unreasonable.
A parent may perceive their child’s actions as rebellious.
A child may perceive their parent as uncaring about their education – or too involved.
A parent may perceive their child as lacking in scholarly ambition – or outside interests.

These misunderstandings can lead to much heartache – both for parents and for their children. They stem from a parent judging the child by the parent’s cultural values – not knowing the child has been trained to see a different value system as the “norm”. This can be extremely frustrating for a child, who is only doing what their school has taught them to do in order to succeed.

So what next? I’m planning to write a series of posts considering different aspects of cross cultural schooling experiences. There is so much to consider! So stay tuned for more thoughts – and please, share your own, too.

Click here to read my advice to parents dealing with cross-cultural education

Recommended reading catchup: December 2018

I recently realised that I never finished my “catch up” series of Recommended Reading – going back and sharing links I collected while I was sick. Since I’m currently travelling (and very busy!) I thought it would be a good time to share these great posts from December 2018 with you. Also, I realise that being a series of posts from December, several reflect on the holiday season and new beginnings. They’re still worth reading – even a few months later!

The Nightly Pilgrimage
TCK Town
Reflections on connecting with a place and its people through food. I recommend you don’t read this on an empty stomach!
“Leaving India was a strange mixture of relief and sadness. I had grown accustomed to the vibrancy of such a bustling country but looked forward to returning to quieter times. I would often catch myself reflecting on my stay and appreciating how I felt, to an extent, local even if it were only for those few weeks. The culinary experiences I had are something unable to be replicated without returning. Chennai’sfood without the context is just food; the people and surroundings completed it.”

The Intrepid Chef: Kaesta McFee [Muscat, Oman]
The Black Expat
The story of an expat chef with connections to many countries! Hear about his journey to where he is, and what he’s done along the way. Really interesting!
“If I was in Canada, I wouldn’t have the same experience. Food is a big part of it. In Singapore, you have Chinese, Malaysians, Indians and they brought all these foods and cultures with them. Singapore is such a hub for these different cultures. I could go on and on but just from Singapore, you could experience different meals. If you don’t enjoy [the country] while doing something you like to do, then maybe you’re not meant to be there.”

“Why we’re the kids that fit nowhere – and everywhere”
Grazia Middle East
I’m going to give you the first paragraph of this article, because if you’re anything like me, this alone will be enough to whet your appetite for more!
“Omar Tom, Reem Hameed and Mohamad Akkaoui – the voices behind the thought-provoking podcast The Dukkan Show – call themselves neo-bedouins. And tracking the journeys that brought them to Dubai, it’s easy to see why. “Neo means new, and bedouins are travellers and nomadic by nature, so have never really been one culture,” Omar – aka OT – explains. For the record, OT is Sudanese in origin, spent his early years in the UAE, and “thinks and speaks in English as a first language, even though it’s meant to be Arabic.” OT is joined on the show by fellow third-culture cohorts Manilla-born Reem – a Filipino-Iraqi who grew up in Baghdad, Kuwait and Canada – and Akkaoui, who was born in Abu Dhabi to Lebanese parents.”

The Privilege of Drinking Tap Water
What Expats Can Do
An expat reflects on the privilege of safe drinking water, from her experiences living in places where it isn’t readily available.
“I am very grateful to my life abroad in tough countries for teaching me things I would not have understood otherwise. I am privileged to be able to drink tap water now, but I am also privileged to have gone through the experience of learning what it means to live day by day with no healthy and safe running water.”

Why “Third Culture” Online Therapists are Excellent with Cross-Cultural Clients
Kyler Shumway
Clinical Psychologist Daniela Tomer shares a little about her journey to offering online sessons for clients in other locations. This is a growing trend, and a huge help for many TCKs and expatriates.
“Most of the global nomad clients who choose to work online are doing so because they can’t find a professional who can speak their language in their location. It is very understandable, crossing cultures is complicated enough; so, seeking for the comfort of communicating in your mother tongue is very natural… I embraced the online technique as the primary modality in my practice as opposed to my former preference of “in-person” coaching. And, when occasionally people seem to be confused with my accent and I am asked about my mother tongue, I answer: “It is complicated…. How much time do you have?” If they insist, I say: “I speak four languages, but I am most comfortable in the common language of the third culture, the language of the ones that moved around.””

Investing in Traditions That Travel Well
A Life Overseas
Another great Jerry Jones post, this time talking about how to create family traditions that travel well. While written in the context of Christmas, this is a really important skill for all expat families to learn, at all times of year.
“Traditions, for the expat (and the repat), are one of the great opportunities for something solid in a life which is otherwise incessantly marked by change. Adaptation is required to be sure. Adjustment is essential. You can’t do this without some tweaks and twerks and modifications but rock solid traditions are worth the investment. My family needs that. I need that. So I’m investing in a solid set of traditions (holiday and otherwise) that can remain constant here, there or anywhwere.”

Home For Christmas
A Life Overseas
Another post from A Life Overseas, this one a lovely reflections on Christmas and home, from the mother of a culturally complicated family.
“The concept of home is even more complicated in our little family of four as we span three continents by birth and nationality. We are a confused, but contented bunch. This Christmas will be our American son’s first Christmas in a western country since age three as well his first in England. It will be our four year old Chinese daughter’s first Christmas ever… There is so much good to experience this Christmas in England. Then in the New Year we’ll come home to Indonesia, another not-quite-fully-home where we currently live. In all the travel, in all the places we’ve lived, we did find home. Our mixed up and meshed together hodgepodge of cultures and experiences created our own unique family culture.”

Three Must-Have Goals for Expats in the New Year
World Tree Coaching
Jodi unpacks some simple practices behind the process of making and reaching the goals we set for ourselves. She talks about presence, values, and self compassion. Really helpful reflections!
“If we simply start making a list of things we want to do, it’s always seemed to me that our intentions will fizzle by the time March rolls around. We may lack direction or a deeper understanding of the why behind the goals we’re setting. This is exacerbated by the unpredictability of expat life. One little glitch can lead us astray. That being said, there are some goals that are universal. There are habits and intentions that we can bring into our lives that are foundational to creating the everyday, practical goals we hope to bring about in the New Year.”

Gift Guide for Third Culture Kids, 2018
Djbouti Jones
And finally, a bit late for this year but something to keep in mind for graduating TCKs soon! And I was very touched to see Misunderstood on the list of recommended books to give you TCK.

Dear repatriating TCK

Recently I received a message from an 11 year old TCK. I had spoken at their school and while we didn’t meet, they knew I was talking about TCK stuff and thought I might be able to help them. Soon they will repatriate – return to live in their passport country – after three years abroad. They wrote to me about their mixed feelings regarding the upcoming move, asking for my advice. I’ve decided to share my reply here because I am sure there are plenty of TCKs around the world feeling similar things right now. (To protect privacy I’ve changed the countries involved to my own – China (Beijing) and Australia.)


Dear repatriating TCK,

I’m so glad you wrote to me. The way you’re feeling is very normal – a lot of people have been in your position before. You’re right: going “home” after making a home for yourself in a new place is really tricky, and there are a lot of complicated feelings that go with it.

There is a special word for moving to your passport country when you’ve been living somewhere else: it’s called “repatriation”. Repatriation is particularly hard and painful. In fact, for hundreds of TCKs I’ve interviewed, it was the most difficult part of their international lives. That’s because the expectations are different. People in Australia might tell you “welcome home” which might hurt when Beijing also feels like home, and you’ve had to leave it behind. People might not understand how much it means to you. But you’ve spent more than a third of your living memory in Beijing – of course it’s important to you! In a lot of ways you aren’t going “back” at all – you’re starting again in a new place.

You described the process of transitioning to China – how at first you were really sad about everything you left behind, but then gradually this became a place of joy for you, a place you’re glued to. This is really good! It means you’ve been able to enjoy your life here. The process of moving to Australia is going to be similar. At the start it’s going to be really sad, because you now have so much in Beijing that you enjoy, and have to say goodbye to. It will hurt to lose these things.

The pain we feel at saying goodbye is a good sign – it means we love something, or someone. It’s much better to have a life full of love, even though that means it hurts to say goodbye, than to be all alone everywhere you go.

You asked for some advice on how to process all of this. The good news is you’re already doing one of the most important things: you are listening to your feelings. Sometimes our feelings seem too big and overwhelming, so we push them away and try to ignore them. This doesn’t get rid of the feelings – it just creates a bigger pile of them we’ll have to sort out later. Very few things in life are all good or all bad – and the same with this move to Australia. There will be some exciting and happy things, and there will be some sad and painful things. The most important thing you can do is keep feeling those feelings – keep sharing them. Write them down, tell someone about them, draw pictures or sing songs – anything that helps you bring those feelings out in the open.

The next piece of advice I have is to say goodbye well. Take time to think about and say goodbye to all the people and places that have meant something to you in these three years. Say “thank you” to everyone, and everything, that has made Beijing a good experience for you. Sometimes you might actually say this out loud, or write it in a goodbye card. Sometimes it will be enough to take time on your own to think about and be thankful for each thing. Make sure you visit your favourite places, and eat your favourite foods. When you do, remember how much they have meant to you. Take photos of “ordinary” things, so you can remember them later. A photo of your street, your favourite noodle shop, the view from your window – anything that holds memories.

My last piece of advice is about what to do when you get to Australia. You will probably miss Beijing (your friends, your school, your whole life!) for quite a while after you arrive. When that happens, don’t forget that it was the same when you arrived in Beijing. It’s totally normal to be sad about the things you’ve lost. You are going to have new experiences and make new friends living in Australia, but that doesn’t mean you stop being sad about the people you left behind. The goal, however, is to start making new connections in Australia, so you can start to feel joy there and glue yourself to this new life. You don’t have to forget Beijing, and the people who matter to you, but at the same time, make space for new people to become important to you. It won’t happen immediately, but eventually you’ll find yourself living a new life that also makes you happy.

There’s one other thing I want to say. You said you thought you preferred Australia over China, but now you’re not so sure. The thing about living in different places is that ALL those places matter to us. It can be hard to choose one over another. But you don’t have to – you are allowed to have space in your heart for more than one place. And it’s okay if the way you feel about each place changes over time. You might be “from” Australia, but you have lived in China as well, and that makes it an important place to you.

I hope this helps you as you get ready to leave. Please write back any time, with any questions you have.

Tanya

Click here to read more posts about Third Culture Kids, transition, and expatriate experiences.

Recommended reading: April 22nd, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! This week includes some great posts for young adult TCKs, and for those parenting TCKs of all ages.

Your Story Makes Sense
Life Story Therapies
Once again, Rachel hits the nail on the head with this wonderful post. So many TCKs learn to compartmentalise their lives. They separate all the pieces that only seem to make sense in particular contexts. This makes it hard to put together an integrated sense of self.
“Many Third Culture Kids have lived lives of staggering contrasts – poor here, rich there – face fits here, but language fits there – materially or experientially ‘lucky’, but experiencing so much loss. These contrasts can confound our attempts to make sense of our Selves. We tell our Stories haltingly, watching all the time for cues that our listener ‘gets it’. More often than not, we learn that somehow our Story alienates, alarms or confuses the people around us. And so we learn to partition the whole into discrete chapters – this one makes sense over here, that one makes sense over there. We learn who we are in relationship. The inter-personal acquaints us with the intra-personal. So it follows that the more fractured our relationships, the more fractured our sense of self risks becoming. If our story doesn’t make sense to others, we may begin to feel it doesn’t make sense to us either.”

Dear Young Adult TCK, What is the price of adapting?
TCK Training
This open letter to a Young Adult TCK is a perfect follow up to Lauren’s post on the “hidden shame” of TCKs (which I linked to in a previous recommended reading). Her point is that adaptation, while a great trait, is often masking a fear (or shame) that tells a TCK they need to be perfect. But what TCKs really need is to learn it’s okay to fail, it’s okay to ask for help, and that reaching out like this actually results in DEEPER relationships.
“If your goal is to look like you fit in, to look like you know what to do, to look like you are confidently and competently navigating the culture, then you are simply striving to portray and uphold an image. Not only is this exhausting, but it often prevents true connection and support… One of the greatest gifts for a TCK is finding people with whom they don’t need to put on a flawless show of brilliant adaptability. But, I don’t think the challenge is necessarily finding these people. The challenge is overcoming the shame that says that reaching out to them is weakness. So, I challenge you. Consider the reason behind your ever-adapting nature. Then, humbly take advantage of the resources available to help you find your people – the people who will get to know the you underneath your adapting-self. I know it’s hard, but you can do it. After all, us TCKs are always up for a good challenge.”

Resisting the Expat Bubble
It is Real
A lovely piece by an expat mum on the balancing act of raising her young TCKs with a connection to the local culture they live in. Connecting with local culture in meaningful ways is hard – it takes time and effort and, most of all, getting out of our comfort zones. Interacting in another language and culture isn’t comfortable!
“Learning Chinese will seem a whole lot more purposeful when my children are put in situations where they actually have to use it. They need more consistent contact with Chinese people… I try and ensure that we are out having authentic contact with Chinese people and experiencing the city. We take public transport and the girls say, “Ni hao” to random people on the bus. While it’s more convenient and requires a lot less brain power to just hang with my expat friends, I sense that my experience in China will be so much richer if I resist the temptation to retreat into the expat bubble. I’ve been surprised by how much Chinese my kids have learned from me… having my kids mimic my Chinese has made me think about how my actions and attitudes to life in China might impact them.”

Inner Onion Layers
TCK Town
Here is a short piece from a TCK point of view, and I love the image of the Friendship Expiry Date Elephant in every room. There are different ways of reacting to the Friendship Expiry Date Elephant, but it is an experience that most TCKs resonate with, and have had to find an accommodation with.
“As a TCK, moving from one city to another, I developed the ability to make friends quickly. Because of the transitory nature of our lives, we did not have the luxury that time offered typical friendships to evolve and grow organically. Never knowing how long someone would be around before leaving for another city was like having a proverbial friendship Expiry Date Elephant following us from room to room. Goodbyes became harder each time and eventually, I would hold these whirlwind friendships at arm’s length in an attempt to lessen the blow. It was an unspoken understanding between us. Make no mistake, these were not fake friendships to help the time pass. These friendships grew deep roots, fertilized by the urgency of time and flourishing at such a rate that you couldn’t help but guard yourself against their impending expirations.”

The Art Of Goodbye
TCK Town
Here’s another piece from TCK Town, this time on the topic of goodbyes. There are so many bittersweet moments in a life marked by transience. Goodbyes are never easy, and feeling the weight of them, over and over, is wearying. Understanding the impact of goodbyes is essential to living life well as an ATCK. We must all find our accommodations, our ways to learn to live with the goodbyes. We have to find the beauty even as we allow ourselves to feel the brokenness.
“I was elated to see him and my other friends graduate; proud of them for finishing their degree and excited for the endless possibilities their lives contained. I was also heartbroken that they were leaving. Mostly, though, I was grateful that our lives have crossed paths to begin with. That day, I watched the commencement ceremony online, not because there wasn’t enough room in the auditorium but because goodbyes are extremely difficult for me. I wasn’t there, not because I didn’t care, but because I cared too much.”

Commentary: Take time to listen to military kids during moves, deployments
DVIDS
Great piece from a military parent on an essential skill for parents of families in transition: stopping to really listen to your kids. Their lives are full of both ups and downs, and in the midst of it all what they really need is you.
“Do military children have bad days? Of course. Do they have times when they’re sick of moving? I’m sure of it. But one of the great things about what military children generally go through is that they go through it, and grow through it, together.
Still, we as parents have a responsibility to acknowledge our children’s hurts from the difficulty of a move or deployment. We owe it to them to listen — actively, without distractions. . . I recognized I had wrongfully assumed my son should just get through it. These days, I am learning to slow down a bit, put work-related stressors on the back burner a little longer, and engage in my son’s world more often.”

Few things teach resilience like being a military child
The News Tribune
And here’s another great piece from a different military parent, reflecting on the struggles their children go through, and the resilience this can build. I especially appreciated her reflections on the many ways changing schools can affect a child – more than I could include in a short excerpt! A great read, for any family going through frequent transitions.
“The school might misinterpret a girl’s transcript, placing her in the wrong level of math, then changing her schedule three months into the year, requiring another round of starting over socially. A boy might know histories of four states and learn the same science curriculum two years in a row because of varying requirements. She only gets to see extended family every few years because she is stationed on the other side of the country, or ocean. He wonders whether to tell Mom how sad he is Dad is deployed, but doesn’t want to add to Mom’s stress… But what doesn’t crush their souls ultimately makes military kids strong. If they’re lucky, they encounter peers who are open to new friendships. If they stay long enough, they gradually build acquaintances into affection. At the very least, they learn how to adapt and endure. They’ve benefited from (or survived) five ways of teaching reading and four styles of coaching basketball. They know if one approach to a problem doesn’t work, another might.”

Should You Let Go of an Old Friendship if You’ve Grown Apart?
Thrive Global
A really insightful piece about the nature of friendships, and how they change over time. I talk a lot in my seminars about the fact that friendships change as we move through life, and about those changes being natural. This concepts of inner and outer circles is a great way to explain the shifts over time – and help explain why there’s no need for guilt over changing relationships, or to cut ties with friends completely, even if you don’t see them often.
“Through our lifespan it’s perfectly natural for different friends to move in and out of our inner circle. So my guess is that you need to change your inner circle rather than dumping the old friends. Everyone else in your life can fit on one of the outer circles. And since the relationships can shift around, someone who was once very intimate might now belong in your outer circles. Even though you’ll have less time, energy, and attention going in their direction, you still value them and want them in your life. . . So while it’s perfectly natural for you to feel that the friends from your past are irrelevant to your present, unless these relationships are actually toxic, I would caution you from completely disconnecting from them. It’s good to have all kinds of friends. We can be enriched by people in our larger circles, even when we may not have all that much in common.”

When this Expat thing gets too much – 5 Self Help Tips
Making Here Home
Lots of good solid advice for self-care in the difficult seasons of expat life.
“It is very easy to want to curl up and hide. But staying home and hiding away is not a good idea; the less you go out, the harder it is to go out. Go for a walk, explore the area where you live; admittedly this has been a lot easier in Europe than it was in Asia where it was so hot and humid even going for a short walk was hard. But the point is getting out there. It’s in discovering places and interacting with people that we start to build our new mental map of wherever it is we are living. There is a sense of pride in finding a new coffee shop just down the road, or a nearby park, or a street vendor that sells the best pineapple. And those simple human interactions with people – a hello to a fellow dog walker, passing the time of day with the cashier at your local shop – can be like little sparks of joy.”

Wait, You Too?
Tertiary
I’m finishing with a short little post by a TCK who captures what can be so powerful about this whole concept: not being “labelled” as a TCK, but finding others who share aspects of your experience.
“I spent most of my teenage years (and a little of my adult life) wrestling with insecurities: I was never Scottish enough to be Scottish, and never Latina enough to be Latina. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, like I’d been made wrong, and that I would never be able to fit in. I remember one day at university broaching that subject with a British-born Korean friend. She looked at me wide-eyed for a second, then said, “Wait, you too?””

The power of the second year

I am now in my second year living in Beijing (again). More importantly, I am in my second year living in this particular apartment/neighbourhood. I’ve wandered our neighbourhood this Spring soaking in sunshine and enjoying beautiful flowers. And as I’ve done this, I’ve had a strange but wonderful feeling. I’ve thought to myself – “oh, I’ve done this before!” I enjoyed a particular blossom tree in a particular spot – and remember enjoying it last year. I stopped to look at a magnolia tree on the way to the shops – and remembered doing that last year.

Those feelings I’ve had are, in a nutshell, the power of the second year.

Some pretty second-year blossoms. Seeing them with that background of the striped smokestack against the blue sky gave me feelings of familiarity.

Some pretty second-year blossoms. Seeing them with that background of the striped smokestack against the blue sky gave me feelings of familiarity.

People often ask me how long it takes to adjust to a new place – how long will the transition last? Obviously there’s no hard and fast rule, and there are different stages of transition. But I usually say it takes a year and a half, and that at the start of the third year you find yourself feeling much more your normal self again. This is because of the power of the second year.

So – what do I mean by “the power of the second year”? Well, it’s the beauty of what I’ve been feeling lately – the wonderful sense of “oh, I’ve done this before!”

When you are adjusting to a change – whether you’ve started in a new school, moved into a new house, said goodbye to close friends, or experienced a change in your health – you will encounter a lot of newness.

Perhaps the space you live in, or work in, is new.
Perhaps the people around you are new.
Perhaps the foods you eat are new.
Perhaps your daily routine is new.
Perhaps the way you unwind is new.

The first day, week, and month are full of firsts. In fact, through the whole first year there will be firsts. The first time you celebrate Eid, Christmas, Diwali, New Year, or numerous other holidays that are important to you, in this new place or routine. The first time you mark your birthday in this new life. Even the first last day of school is a first!

It’s only in the second year that everything becomes familiar – everything has been done before.

Now, obviously there are many things you will have done multiple times during your first year. That’s why transition is a gradual process. The power of the second year is that nothing is new. You’ve been through it all before. You can see what’s coming because you’ve done it before. You start to get a feel for the rhythm of the year – you’ve been through the whole cycle so now you can begin to predict it.

The power of the second year is that you start to feel comfortable.

You start to find people who are comfortable, place that are comfortable, routines that are comfortable.

Instead of being hit by wave after wave of newness, you can see the waves coming. You might even start to surf them.

The power of the second year also explains why frequent transition (moving every 2-3 years) can be exhausting, frustrating – or even appealing.

Starting again takes time, energy, and effort. Some people find this absolutely exhausting. Some are totally frustrated by having to go through the process over and over. Perhaps you’ve felt both of those. (In either case, my six tips for a good transition may be helpful!)

When you transition frequently, you don’t have time to hit your stride before you have to leave again. You are never at your best because you’re always coping with a new routine – or preparing to leave and start again.

Some people, on the other hand, find all this new information, all the new experiences, all the newness of starting again with people and places, quite exciting! For them, the newness is interesting. For some, however, all that newness also means not having to learn how to connect deeply, with places or with people.

There are things to learn from and enjoy in our transitions.

There are things to learn from and enjoy about staying and settling into routine.

The power of the second year is that you have been around the block already. There are things you know, things you recognise. You don’t need to think so much about what to do in different circumstances because you already know!

Familiarity is a wonderful thing; it’s one of the elements that makes a place feel like home. So wherever you are in your transitions – whether first year, second year, twentieth year, or even your last year – it’s worth taking time to savour those moments of recognition and familiarity.

Recommended reading: April 15th, 2019 – TCK perspective

It’s been a long time since I last put together a TCK Perspective edition of Recommended Reading. That’s what I’ve done this week, gathering posts from the last few months in which TCKs share their own perspectives – their individual stories and experiences. Actually, it’s been so long since I’ve done this that I’ve decided to split it up into two posts! Stay tuned for a follow up soon…

Aramco Brats: Life inside the Kingdom
The Third Culture Kid Project
Poignant reflections on the particular experience of oil brats – specifically, Aramco brats. These are TCKs who grew up in the compounds run by Saudi oil company Aramco.
“Saudi Arabia is one of the hardest countries in the world to get a tourist visa especially if you are not Muslim. This means that once expats finish their work assignments and their work visa finishes, they can never (or at least in most cases) go back. It is perhaps this very fact that makes KSA so hard to say goodbye to. Growing up we always joked that we lived in a “bubble” but it was only until I left that I realised how true that really was. . . We could drive for hours yet reach nowhere. We were always confined by the compound walls- but because we were all together, this somehow always felt okay. I always believed I was living a normal teenage life but thinking back that’s not quite how it was. . . But here is a secret: Aramco Brats never truly move on. We always carry a part of our childhood/teenage years with us. It is what allows us to connect with the rest of the Aramco brats around the world. Its what creates that special bond. Saudi for us is the place where we made friends that we trust with our lives, where we were surrounded by people from all places, races and religions and we cared for each other unconditionally. Saudi is the place where we were raised not only by our parents but our friend’s parents. It is the place that taught us to add “wallah” “ mishwar” “ inshallah” to our vocabulary. . . Saudi taught me how to love not only people, but cultures, and sunrises, and car rides. It made me fall in love with streets and routine. I left over six years ago, and there is not one day where I don’t miss home.”

Third Culture Kid spotlight: Meet Daniel
Chameleon Dance
An interview with a TCK from a corporate family, talking a little about his perceptions of the world from the vantage of his Third Culture childhood.
“Home for me really depends on the people around me, because places can change. It’s not so cut and dry, though. Places are important too, and ultimately home comes from that combination of places that you feel comfortable in, with people you like having around you that help you feel at home. And yes, this can be more than one place.

The Crazy, Awesome, Challenging Lives of Diplo-Teens
Jan von Schleh
This next story is an interview with several embassy kids.
“Typically, once my family moves away from one city, we don’t go back. I don’t have a ‘home town’ anywhere in the world, not even in the United States! I make friends wherever I go, but never good enough to travel back and visit. My extended family members are the only people we ever go back to see, and while it’s a very small group of people, they’re all spread out over the US. During our summers, my parents and I usually stay where we are and let family come to us because we move so often, it might be their only chance to visit the crazy places we live! Sometimes my immediate family then visits a new country like Croatia, Greece, or Finland!”

My Final Mistake in Bogota
Raised in the Foreign Service
And going back in time, we have a childhood vignette from an embassy kid, reflecting on a story from her time in Colombia.
“As we approached the end of the year, I was no longer the new kid in Mrs. Ospina’s fourth grade class at the English School in Bogotá. I had caught up on stuff I missed when Dad worked at the Embassy in Rome. Instead of the Etruscans, the English School taught the Henrys, Shakespeare and how we lost the colonies. A good story always held my attention. But a new hurdle loomed: the final examinations, a series of essay questions written in England, mailed across the Atlantic to Colombia and mailed back to England to be graded. I imagined a line of stern women, stuffed into tweed suits like our headmistress Mrs. Mason, hunched over our papers and ripping at them like Andean vultures.”

Loneliness My Old Friend
Velvet Ashes
Next up, meditations on the experience and lessons of loneliness, as told by a missionary kid who grew up in rural Mongolia:
“I grew up in areas of Mongolia that were very isolated. There were years I spent in cities without other expat children and friendships were hard for me to build among the nationals. You know you are different, and they know you are different and, while you love each other deeply, you are keenly aware that you don’t fit, that this isn’t your home. For many years my best friends wouldn’t acknowledge me in public.”

On the Topic of “Goodbye”…
We All See This World A Little Differently
This TCK shares a lot of great insights on the impact of goodbyes in the lives of TCKs.
“Probably the most significant goodbye I have ever experienced was the day I graduated. I graduated with 27 other people that represented 11 different nationalities. I, likely, will never again (on this earth) be in the same space as those 27 others. The day I graduated, I said goodbye to people I grew up with. People who formed who I was up until that point. When I say the word “goodbye”, generally, I think people associate that with the choice to leave. In the Ex-Pat (ex-patriot) community, goodbyes come in various forms. They come in re-assignment from an organization, they can come from the local government not allowing you back in the country, they can come from you staying but your friend/family member going “home”. Goodbyes come in all sorts of ways. Somethings I’ve learned about goodbye are that they never get any easier. I guess with advances in technology we are able to stay in visual contact, but it is still hard when there is a lack of physical presence (and this is by no means isolated to the TCK life).”

Living Hopefully with Depression – Iona’s Story
Noggy Bloggy
This is a powerful piece in which one TCK tells her story of coping with depression.
“I’ve always had strong emotions. When we lived in Portugal I devoured the time with my family, loving the beach, the sun, the baked chicken we ate with fresh bread on Sundays. When we moved to Angola I felt the fear, the stress, the anxiety about a new and dangerous place. Then my sisters started moving to boarding school and I felt the loneliness, the quietness, the dependable fact of change and the swift passage of time. I cried. I yelled. I immersed myself in imaginary characters to deal with stress and emotions. The point is – I felt. I felt a lot and I felt often. Experiencing extreme emotions was an essential part of being Iona, and when that part disappeared I knew something was wrong. . . There are many aspects of our lives that are lonely. No one will be able to understand your exact interpretation or experience. With TCKs I think this can be even more profound. We’re told to relate and understand so much about a variety of cultures but when it comes to understanding ourselves we can be at a loss – as can others. . . I want to be honest with this post because I don’t believe there’s enough honesty about mental illness in our world. I am not writing this from a place of healing. I have not ‘recovered’ from depression.”

No, I am not an Asian-American
Technique
This post talks about Third Culture experiences and identity, and how that identity is misunderstood by others.
“I am Filipino by ethnicity and by nationality: I speak Tagalog and I eat Filipino food, but I have never lived in the Philippines. I was born in Singapore. From there, we moved to Jakarta, Indonesia. We ended up in Paris, France, for a while and then found ourselves in Moscow, Russia, before moving to Houston, Texas, where I lived for eight years before moving to Atlanta to attend Georgia Tech. I was raised in a hybrid “typical Asian” family and a Westernized family dynamic. . . I am a “third-culture” individual and a first-generation immigrant to America. I am not an Asian-American. . . I only sound and act American because that’s how I learned to survive and thrive in other countries — to immerse myself truly and fully in the native culture, while still maintaining my Filipino heritage.”

Spoken Word Poetry – Don’t Keep Your Distance (Do You Know How Many Times I Have Moved?)
CulTure miKs
And finally, a beautiful spoken word poem that starts like this:
“Do you know how many times
I have moved?
Sometimes I count them on my fingers,
fistful after fistful of tears
swollen in my throat and I try
to remember every single one
but I can’t.”

Listing countries

I am currently in South Korea, speaking at an international school in Seoul. This is my first visit to South Korea (despite having had many Korean friends and worked with many Korean TCKs over the years). Which means something exciting – I get to add a new country to my list!

Most people in international circles have a list. A list of countries they’ve visited. Everyone has different house rules – what counts? I’ve been part of many discussions where different rules were suggested and different situations debated. Lists went up and down in number with each decision agreed on. What can you put on your list? Can you count it if you land, but don’t leave the airport? What about if you leave the airport, but only to stay in a hotel overnight? What if you travel through a country on a train, but never step foot outside a train station? And yes, all those hypotheticals apply to me!!

Here’s my list, listed chronologically from first (non-debatable) visit, and skipping all repeats.

  • debated countries in [brackets]
  • + debatable countries that stamped my passport
  • * countries started out as debatable – but then I went back and visited properly!
  1. 1982: Australia
  2. 1983: USA
  3. 1994: UK
  4. 1994: France
  5. 1996: Canada
  6. 1996: South Africa
  7. 1999: China
  8. 2000: Malaysia
  9. 2001: Vanuatu
  10. 2004: [Japan]+
  11. 2006: [Hong Kong]
  12. 2007: Thailand*
  13. 2008: [Macao]
  14. 2009: Cambodia
  15. 2010: Vietnam
  16. 2010: Singapore*
  17. 2014: Laos*
  18. 2017: [UAE]
  19. 2017: Netherlands
  20. 2017: [Belgium]+
  21. 2017: Ireland
  22. 2018: [Portugal]+
  23. 2018: Czech Republic
  24. 2018: [Russia]
  25. 2018: [Qatar]
  26. 2018: Tanzania
  27. 2018: [Kenya]
  28. 2018: Sudan
  29. 2019: South Korea

Huh, now that I count up like this, looks like South Korea is my 20th non-debatable country! That’s a nice, round number. I personally think three of my debatables are close enough to count. Hong Kong and Macau returned to Chinese rule before I visited either of them, but they are still treated very differently to mainland China. And Belgium – well, I traversed the entire country by train, and I had my passport stamped as exiting the Schengen zone from Brussels. The rest were all airport visits. I technically left the airport in Japan, but only far enough to go to an airport hotel for the night. But I do have a passport stamp so a lot of my friends say it counts. So – that gives me a count of anywhere from 20-29, depending on your rules. I’m going to go with 23. Maybe 23.5?

Fitting that the only Australian stamp I can find in two Australian passports is when I left to move to China. Also - not the stamp from Brussels, Belgium! Total list of countries shown: China, USA, Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Tanzania, and Belgium.

Fitting that the only Australian stamp I can find in two Australian passports is when I left to really move to China. Also – note that I have a stamp from Brussels, Belgium! Total list of countries shown: China, USA, Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Tanzania, and Belgium.

I can’t decide if it’s more funny or sad that I’ve never been to any of the closest countries to Australia – Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and New Zealand. I’d swum in oceans around the world before I ever visited the south coast beaches of Australia, a 2-3 hour drive from “home” in Canberra.

What about you? What’s your number, list, and what are your “house rules” for counting countries?

Click here to read more posts about Third Culture Kids, transition, and expatriate experiences.

Recommended reading: April 8th, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! I’m still catching up on great content from March – but these posts are too good to miss sharing! Lots of great advice for those parenting and supporting TCKs, especially teeangers and young adults. There’s also a selection of different topics related to expat life more generally, and a really powerful long read to savour. Enjoy!

Also, if you missed my recent blog posts on TCK Tattoos and my own tattoo story I encourage you to take a look! I go into some of the reasons tattoos can be particularly meaningful to TCKs and others who live internationally. I’ve been getting great feedback on them this week!

The Hidden Shame of the TCK
TCK Training
This is a powerful and very important piece on the role that shame plays in the adaptibility demonstrated by many TCKs. This is SUCH a key topic. There is so much fear and anxiety at play in many TCKs’ inner lives. Understanding the role that shame plays is game changing.
“The underlying reason for mastering the trait of adaptability was shame. For many teenage and young adult TCKs, this shame dictates their life. They put an incredible amount of energy and emotion into looking like they belong out of fear that they will be found out. Out of fear that they will misstep and someone will see it and mentally shame them for their cultural faux pax. Out of fear that people will confirm their feelings and they truly will never fit in. Shame is not often talked about in the TCK world, though I believe that it is a significant issue for this growing population. If you are a parent of a TCK, or are working with TCKs, consider bringing “shame” into your vocabulary. Spend a significant amount of time helping your TCK to wrestle through the things that are core to who they are. How do those core traits play out in their life? What do they do because it is a part of who they are, and what do they do out of fear of not blending in with everyone else?”

The no 1 thing your teen wants you to do after moving back home
Keeping It Real Me
Great post sharing the experiences of teenage TCKs going through repatriation – how they feel in the midst of it, how hard it is for parents to watch their kids struggle, and how parents can help their teen TCKs. The bottom line is that teenage TCKs want their parents to LISTEN – to provide space for the TCK to talk about what they’re going through, and not try to fix it. This is the same thing I’ve heard repeatedly from teenage TCKs around the world, not just in regard to repatriation, but to all kinds of transitions. They know it can’t be “fixed” – and they don’t want you to pretend it can be. They just want you to be there, to listen, and comfort, in the midst of the hard feelings.
“They also felt that they couldn’t really talk about how they felt because they didn’t want to come over as a spoilt expat brat who didn’t appreciate all the opportunities they’ve had. So they kept it all in. Pushed those feelings away. A coping mechanism all to familiar to the average TCK teen. . . We feel this guilt as a parent because we made the decision to live this expat life. And even though we can justify our decision with very valid points – our kids didn’t ask for it. Yet they have to adjust, start over and leave again. . . You know what the number 1 thing is that a teen needs from you as a parent? It’s for you to not do anything. Just listen. When they’re sad. Or mad. Or struggling. They want to be able to talk about it. Complain about it. Cry about it. They don’t want you to fix it.”

Third culture kids: How parents and teachers can support young global nomads
Study International
An article full of solid information, perspectives, and advice. Lots of top-notch experts in the field quoted! Not a deep dive, but definitely a helpful read. A great recommendation for anyone you know who is new to raising TCKs!
“So how can one lend support to TCKs? Engage with them. Instead of asking them questions about where he or she is from or what’s troubling them, the report suggests asking the child about where they have lived, what they’ve left behind to open the doors of communication and to listen carefully to what they have to say. This gives them the time, space and permission to remember and mourn.”

Blackbird: Sisters in Flight
The Black Expat
Great story about the comfort, encouragement, and sanity that comes from the solidarity shared between black women living abroad. Now, obviously I am not a black woman, but it’s important for me to listen to the stories of expats who have different experiences to me. It’s important to truly understand that we all experience this world a little differently.
“I can’t count the number of times I’ve been saved by a Black woman. The Black woman who knowingly smiles at me when we’re the only two Black people in the whole place, even if we don’t speak the same language. The group of Black women who can meet at an event and talk for hours about where to buy Black hair care products in a predominately white country. The Black woman who works in the mayor’s office who responds to my cold email inquiry, introducing me to four other Black women leaders who can help me reach my professional goals. I’m so grateful for the countless Black women who are walking paths that can be similar or distant from mine – paths that connect us at just the right time, offering me those life-saving moments of familiarity, comfort and sanity.”

Shock and Testing: Two More Twists on the Road to Grief Recovery?
Good Therapy
An interesting overview of research around grief modelling, and how it does (and doesn’t) work for many people.
“In his book Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, David Kessler argues that the quest for meaning might be the final stage of grief before acceptance. While the original model was presented as sequential, most grief experts now argue that a person can go through the stages in any order. They may also repeat or revisit stages, especially during times of intense emotional distress. For example, a person grieving the loss of their father might become angry over his loss when he is not present at their wedding, even if they already experienced the anger stage years before.”

The Challenges and Opportunities in Managing a Health Condition Abroad Part II
Families In Global Transition
This is part two in a series on managing health conditions while living internationally. (I noted the first post in an earlier Recommended Reading post.) I was particularly interested in this post given my own international health issues over the past six months. This paragraph in particular really spoke to me:
“Looking back, those patients who describe a real sense of personal power and satisfaction around how they coped with their healthcare challenges are those who also claimed some authority over their own bodies and medical history. They’ve honed in on their intercultural communication skills, persisted if dismissed, got creative, and kept searching for a physician who shared their values.”

Empathy Is Admitting You Don’t Understand
Sojourners
On a totally different note, I appreciated this post on empathy. Many expats and TCKs run into a lack of empathy in others who do not understand (or recognise) the difficulties they struggle with as a result of international life. Often these are dismissed with a comment about the great things that we get to experience abroad. I can imagine the incredible difference it would make to the thousands of TCKs I have known if they experienced true empathy from the people in their lives.
“Sympathy is what we offer to another when we acknowledge that a situation or experience is unfortunate, and leave it at that. Sympathy lets us claim that we “feel bad,” but absolves us from any further responsibility to learn or change. Empathy, however, calls us to consider another person’s story and reflect on their experience. Empathy calls us to be compassionate and to truly consider how another person feels. It calls us to want to learn, grow, and evolve toward love.”

Uncertain Ground
Longreads
I’m finishing with a post that is really fascinating and worth reading, but I’ve left it til last because it is a long read (obviously!). It’s something to put time aside for, to meander through and enjoy, not skim through quickly. In it a TCK (an intersectional TCK, at that) talks about grief and geography. Such a deeply important and emotionally powerful piece of writing.
“We were a curious cultural hybrid: a family of Taiwanese origin living as American expatriates in a British territory where we resembled the local Chinese population, but did not speak the same language and had little in common with them. . . Even though my mom and I had not lived in the same country for more than two decades and my memories of her were from another time and place, I was unhinged by grief. There was no grave to visit here, no church that would say prayers for her soul, no community of the also-bereaved. Everyone who was close to my mom lived in Taiwan. I came “home” to California where no one experienced her absence profoundly, where no one had to deal with canceling her prescriptions, washing her laundry, throwing away her unopened mail or staring at her empty chair. My grief was overwhelming because there was no context or container for it. Its free-floating shapelessness terrified me because that meant it could strike anytime, anywhere, without warning. One year later I went back to Tienpin to place my dad’s ashes next to my mom’s, and complete the engraving on the plaque that marked their final resting place. The day of my mom’s service, it had been bright and sunny. The day we brought my dad’s ashes to Tienpin, there was a violent thunderstorm. I was happy they were reunited, but my own grief multiplied. In Chinese folklore, wandering ghosts cause the most trouble. Now I understand it’s because they want what we want – to be grounded, to be claimed. Grief works the same way. The more restless it is, the more damage it does. It too needs a home.”

My own international tattoo story

When I wrote about TCKs and their tattoos last week it was hard to avoid noticing how many of the themes and comforts I was describing for tattooed TCKs also reflected my own tattoo experience. My tattoo doesn’t connect to a Third Culture childhood; it’s all about my young adult years in the Third Culture.

I’d been in living in China for nearly ten years when I started making plans to repatriate and undertake studies in Australia. I hadn’t lived in my passport country since I was 21, a full time student living at home with my parents and sister(s). There was a lot of emotion surrounding the decision, and the swiftly approaching new future. So I decided to really celebrate my ten year Chinaversary – a balance to the sadness of upcoming farewells a few months later.

As I reflected on marking my decade in China and preparing to leave the place that had been my home throughout my adult years, the idea of getting a tattoo starting creeping up on me. I’d never had any interest in getting a tattoo before this, but now the idea was insistent, and wouldn’t leave me alone. It took me a long time to decide what I wanted. I knew I wanted it to be in Chinese characters – connection to a place and a language that are very meaningful to me – but which ones? I felt that, as someone who can actually read and write Chinese, I should be somewhat complicated, to reflect my command of the language. But there was nothing that fit. It had to be something that would always be true, something that reflected the impact living in China had had on me.

The answer, when it came to me, was so simple I dismissed it for ages. My tattoo simply says 十年: “ten years”.

tcktat-me

Alongside those two simple characters was the other element I knew I wanted – a simple representation of red plum blossoms. There are so many reasons this is meaningful to me. China has four national flowers, one for each season, and plum blossoms are for winter. I’ve always had an affinity for winter; there are so many stories from my life attached to that concept. Red is also the classic lucky colour in China – good fortune, blessing, protection.

That’s the basic story, but in this post I want to go through the different elements I wrote about in last week’s post, and connect those general concepts to this specific tattoo. It’s a good way to illustrate how it all comes together in a real life situation. (I’ll be quoting from the original post on TCK tattoos as I go.)

“Some TCKs deliberately choose very obvious places for their tattoos, because when they are noticed, they give a reason to share part of their story. Others put them in less easily visible locations, to serve as a reminder that this part of their lives others don’t see is still real. Tattoos can serve as public identification, and as private consolation.”

I chose the location of my tattoo very carefully – I wanted to see it often, but I wanted the choice over whether anyone else could see it. I chose to place it on my right thigh, high enough that it rarely shows. When it is seen, the simple explanation that it says “ten years” for the ten years I lived in China is a nice thing to be able to share.

Most of the time, however, my tattoo serves as “private consolation”. During the first few months of overwhelming transition to life in Australia I was amazed at how much comfort it gave me to see those two simple characters etched on my skin. This life-changing experience – this whole other LIFE – really happened, even when no one around me knows or understands that.

“A tattoo representing a place a TCK feels a strong connection to gives them a TANGIBLE connection. A permanent mark. The place that is invisibly etched on their heart is now visibly etched on their skin. This can be an incredibly comforting thing. . . A tattoo in a language that is meaningful to a TCK gives them a permanent, tangible connection to that language – even if the place is far away, or their language abilities fade.”

Obviously, my tattoo has connections to both place and language. It’s literally counting the years I spent in a particular place, using the language of that place. A language I can read and write and speak – even though no one looking at me would expect me to be a Chinese speaker. There’s also the added element that I got the tattoo done in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the third place in the world that is very important to me. But underneath all that, my tattoo is much more of a value-based tattoo.

“Value-based tattoos often serve as reminders of values TCKs cherish and want to hold on to, no matter what the life they currently live looks like. They can serve as reminders of experiences they’ve had or lessons they’ve learned at different times in their international journeys.”

My tattoo is a reminder of a time that changed my life. A season of life in a particular place and language, yes, but what is more important to me is how that time (and place, and language) changed me. I am a different person because I spent those ten years in China. When I got the tattoo, I thought it unlikely I’d be living in China again, and certainly not any time soon. But I knew that even if I never went to China again, even if I never used the Chinese language in any meaningful way again, those ten years had marked me forever.

And that’s why it made sense, to me, for that to be a tattoo. The fact of those ten years will never change. My husband once joked that I might need to add an 二 eventually (to make it twenty years) and you know what, if I make it here that long I would consider it! But regardless, this current season of life in China is very different to my first ten years. Those first ten years were my young adult life – age 21 to 32. It’s not accurate to say I “grew up” here, but it feels true. Perhaps it’s better to say that China is where I came into my own. This is where I learned who I am, and who I want to be. This is where I made choices about my life’s direction – and created an utterly different life for myself than anything I’d previously imagined. This is where I began the work that has become my passion; this is where I wrote my book. This is where I met and got to know my husband (though when I got this tattoo I hadn’t expected us to stay in touch, let alone that I’d move back here to marry him only three years later!)

Shortly before I got my tattoo, I had to return a legal document to China. I was taken by surprise by the wave of melancholy that arose in me as I let it go! As I wrote at the time: “It symbolised the life I had lived in China; it was proof that that life really happened.” That’s exactly what my tattoo does – but permanently.

Moving to Australia, looking and (mostly) sounding like a normal Aussie, was a strange experience. In China, my dual connection was obvious. No one looking at me would mistake me as Chinese. But many people listening to me speak Chinese assumed I was – until they saw me! In Australia I don’t stand out. Don’t get me wrong, I really like being able to blend in! But it means that no one understands there’s this whole other side of me and my life, unless I specifically tell them. Coming home after a long day of transition and engaging with people, it was a big comfort to see those ten years branded on my skin.

In some ways I felt like Dorothy, finally home in Kansas after her adventures in Oz, no one knowing this other place existed, let alone how deeply it had marked her. But when I had those moments, I also had the comfort of a literal and physical mark on my body. Often I would stroke my tattoo, remembering that all of it was real. The 十年 on my skin reflects the ten years in my heart.

Click here to read more posts about Third Culture Kids, transition, and expatriate experiences.

Recommended reading: April 1st, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! I have a typically eclectic mix for you this week. I’ve been delighted to find so much wonderful content out there lately. And every week it’s lovely to hear from readers who appreciate these little introductions. On that note, here’s a little plug for my Patreon – a platform to support creators. I’m seeking financial contributions to help me continue my work, both creating content like this to support the expat/TCK community, but especially the research I’m doing into adult Third Culture Kids. Anyone who sponsors me $2 a month gets access to early findings from my research, which I’m sharing exclusively with my patrons. Find out more on my Patreon page.

Black & Stared At…Abroad
The Black Expat
A really interesting piece on the struggle of standing out – in this case, a black American expat family living the “trule white world” of Ireland.
“When we first moved to Dublin, Ireland from Houston, Texas one of the first things we noticed was the lack of Black people in the city. We would go days without seeing another Black person besides the people in our little family of four. As our time in Dublin continued, we grew accustomed to the lack of color outside our home. But the stares are something my husband and I will never get used to…We have Irish friends and through genuine conversations we are fully aware that most stares are coming from a place of curiosity due to an unintentional lack of exposure. This is not the US and the playing field is different and the history of the country and people must be taken into consideration. It is an opportunity for us to grow and learn from one another. I do admit, however, that I am a firecracker of a human and on some days the stares really get to me…Despite the struggles of living as a Black expat in a truly white world, I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to move past the stares and open the door to difficult communication and much needed awareness of diversity.”

Rousing Yourself from Expat Lethargy
Taking Route
Great post with practical advice to help get out of an expat funk. I particularly loved the last one on the list: “Planning a date with my host country”.
“There comes a time in each expat’s life when the struggles, challenges, and difficulties are no longer exciting and novel. Daily life is a slog. Instead of rising in the morning with resolve and purpose, you want to stay in bed…or better yet, hop on a plane and get back to the place where living is easy, where you can shop, work, and talk to friends without thinking twice about how to do those things. Everyone has those days. But sometimes a day can turn into a season.”

Expat Life: Living In the Middle
World Tree Coaching
A lovely piece from Jodi reflecting on life “in the middle” that is so familiar to those of us who live highly transitional lives.
“Over the course of our expat life I’ve come to realize that trying to define these events as having distinct beginnings, middles and ends is fruitless. Right now, for example, when we have neither moved from Tokyo nor arrived in Brussels, feels like beginning, middle and end; a little bit of all three mixed up in a strange, confusing mishmash of this moment. Yet, even if it’s confusing, there is indeed a real feeling to this in-between place…It’s that time when you start to pull back from the life you’re leading in one place and begin to allot designated moments to begin to deal with the preparations of the next location.”

Chokladbollar in the story of Alaine Handa
Expat Clic
A lovely interview with Alaine, author of the cookbook, In Search of the Best Swedish Chokladbollar. I love the way Alaine’s experiences all around the world have come together in this literally sweet cookbook.
“The preparation of chokladbollar is usually quite consistent across the different cities, with only minimal variation from the traditional recipe. I decided to put together my passion for chocolate balls and my life as a Third Culture Kid, preparing chokladbollar with ingredients from all the places that I have lived in. Some of my recipes include in fact matcha (a strong green tea from Japan), kaya (coconut jam very common in Singapore and Malaysia), bakkwa (a Chinese salty-sweet dried pork jerky meat also typical in Singapore), and even s’mores (marshmallows and biscuits melted together, commonly eaten in the USA). I put a little bit of my expat experience in every chokladbollar I prepare!”

Three Ways to Bloom in Place
Life Story Therapies
A lovely little piece taking the analogy of a plant growing to give insights to ATCKs learning to adapt and grow wherever they find themselves.
“Where do you need space to grow? Let’s talk environment. I, like many other Third Culture Kids, feel restless if my physical environment remains static for too long. If I choose not to change country or house, it’s likely I will find myself changing furniture around, or switching up the interior decorations. This is okay! Find a constructive way to give yourself an environment that stimulates your growth, that inspires your creativity, that offers the peace you need to bloom.”

‘My identity went’: Mental health issues torment trailing spouses
Al Jazeera
This article talks to several expat women in Qatar about their experiences as “trailing spouses” – moving to another country because of a partner’s job, without employment of their own. While the term “trailing spouse” is falling out of favour, the struggles that go with it are real. And this article shares some great insights and helpful advice from women who have been there.
“To avoid spousal resentment and maintain one’s mental health, Wlasuik advises women to evaluate what they want from the expatriate experience. “You need to have a goal in mind to avoid wandering aimlessly for two years, and then realising you’ve become a completely different person and actually not like yourself,” she said. “Even if you do [adapt] as a result of the environmental change, at least you’re aware of it and not lost.” Above all, she recommends communication. “Reach out,” she said. “You are not alone. You are not the first one to go through this, and you are certainly not the last.””

Moving Abroad with Kids: How to Make Relocating Easier for Them
The Global Dispatch
This post brings together a lot of simple but still solid advice for parents taking children abroad. The description of TCKs at the end is a bit trite, but overall this is a good introduction for anxious parents.
“Taking kids abroad can be quite a difficult venture to navigate around. Parents often wonder if their child or children can cope with such a drastic change. If you’re thinking of moving abroad with your kids, read on and learn a bit more about how to make the journey easier for them.”

The struggle of friendships living abroad
Share The Love
A short but sweet post about some of the characteristics of expatriate friendships.
“Don’t be surprised if expat friendships can become more intimate than you are used to in just a short amount of time. It is just normal that we are more open about our feelings when we feel understood. Most likely you find yourself in a similar situation making it possible for a friendship to grow strong and supporting in only a couple of cups of tea. Get used to saying good-bye. Also be prepared to say good-bye more often than you are used to. Expats are jumpy human beings. People are coming and going, plans are changing, work projects are ending early or new opportunities arise in another country. There is always something going on in an expat community.”

Bilinguals hear sounds differently based on the language they think they’re listening to, new study shows
Concordia
This is a little off topic, but it’s fascinating to me so maybe you’ll enjoy it too! This article talks about how bilinguals interpret sounds, based on what language they are expecting to hear.
“It’s almost like there is a setting they can set to activate their English configuration and filter it through English ears versus a French configuration where they would filter it through French ears. And we think they can switch configurations very quickly.”

On Longing
Communicating Across Boundaries
I’m ending with something a little different – a post by Marilyn on the concept of “longing”. This is something that all humans experience, and yet it seems particularly apt in a TCK/expat context. We often feel the ache of longing for a place that is geographically distant. Or for a person who is far away.
“A couple of weeks ago I asked folks how they would define “longing” on the Communicating Across Boundaries Facebook page. Your responses did not disappoint. The thing that made them so significant to me is that I know some of the stories behind these responses…I know the ones who have said too many goodbyes, the ones who have experienced significant loss of place and people. So as you read these, know that they come from hearts and lives of those who have suffered but continue to live. And to you who read this, may you feel hope in our shared experiences of longing.”