Recommended reading: February 18th, 2019

This week’s Recommended Reading is a bit of an odd mix – some practical tips for cross-cultural parenting, some expat friendship, some big emotions, and lots of interesting stories. There really is so much great content being created around the internet, and I love being able to bring some of it to you – and maybe even introduce you to some writers and websites you aren’t already aware of in the process!

Finding the Right Words: Cultivating No-Fear Friendships In Your Expat Life
World Tree Coaching
Another powerful piece by Jodi, addressing the fear that can creep in and prevent us from engaging deeply in expat friendships. She encourages us to find words – values, really – to guide us in continuing to forge and maintain deep friendships. Intentionality really is important – and this is a great tool, a way of thinking that can help.
“I don’t want to oversimplify how very difficult it can feel at times to create new friendships when you’ve moved to a new place. It’s not just about building new relationships either; we carry the baggage of the friendships we’ve left behind with us too. We’re grieving what we’ve lost while also trying to build something new from what may feel like ruins. Even when we don’t want to, we compare the new faces with the old ones wondering if we can really create another bond that will survive the miles. Yet, research on the importance of strong friendships in our overall health is quite clear. Even when we find it difficult to build relationships, the task remains essential to our survival.”

Loving Our Kids Through Transition
Velvet Ashes
I’m constantly impressed by the quality content on Velvet Ashes, and how much of it is broadly applicable to expatriate families, even though its core audience is missionary families. This piece is no exception, and it has great practical advice on how to walk through transitions with kids – especially how to provide some constancy and tradition in a new country.
“I have tried to keep some constancy in our home décor. We’ve had to sell most of our stuff when we’ve moved, but I kept some of our Christmas ornaments, sentimental wall art and pictures. The delight on their face discovering those things, after months being packed up, has been priceless. We’ve prioritized exploring and making memories in our new country – even when it is a lot of work. It helps our kids to connect this place with the feeling of joy, togetherness and even at home.”

Tragedy and Our Souls
Travel Lite
Another piece from the missionary world, this one dealing with the powerful emotions surrounding grief at a distance. I don’t want to say much, but rather let you read for yourselves:
“One result of the leaving lifestyle is that we each end up with many dear relationships flung between continents and it is impossible for us to keep up with all of them. But when tragedy strikes it is as though time shrinks and we can see ourselves with that friend and memories come flooding back… we feel the impact of the grief and yet feel helpless to enter in, to do something in response. We can choose to retreat. Distance ourselves from social media so that we don’t even know when tragedy happens within our far-flung community. We can choose to post a condolence. We can reach out to those we know who were affected by the tragedy. All are valid options. But what do we do with our souls and the impact that these tragedies have on us? Where do we go with the grief? And are there ways that we can enter into the grief and tragedies that come upon our community even when there is this distance made by time and geography?”

How far being a banana got me
TCK Town
This is an amazing piece, full of vulnerable self-exposure, the story of an immigrant kid trying to fit into the majority culture, trying to fit into whatever group would bolster an external sense of self. It is a journey, toward self-acceptance – and learning the difference between fitting in, and belonging.
“I started focusing most of my energy into accumulating white friends, and felt proud to be the only Asian when we did go out together. While I didn’t shun my Asian companions, I didn’t want to identify with them or participate in any of “their” cultural practices… For years to come, as I migrated from one country to another, I would identify with cultural groups I deemed as priority to get approval from. I wanted to be the lads at the pub, the pretty boys getting stares in the club, the snowboarders smoking weed in the mountains, or the fashionistas on Instagram… Through my travels, I realised that I didn’t want to fit in. Rather, I wanted to belong. I wanted to be in a place where I wanted to be and associate with people who wanted me for me, and not because I can be like everyone else. I have been through enough to know that I am enough. To be able to love myself wholeheartedly and embrace my complexities.”

Walking The Spirit
The Black Expat
This post is an example of The Black Expat blog doing what they do best – telling fascinating stories about interesting people. Very much worth reading!
“If you ask Julia Browne how she came up with the idea for Walking The Spirit Tours, a customized tour company which focuses on Black heritage, she would tell you it was completely unplanned. But an encounter with a historian triggered a curiosity that led to the successful travel business she runs today. However to get the story of Walking The Spirit you have to start with her own… I very much felt my Canadian-ness when I was with my American friends. But then I was conscious of my North American self when I was with women from other parts of the diaspora [in France]. Then there’s just being treated differently by the French because you’re American, or Canadian. Canadian didn’t mean much for the French at the time. They just assumed there were no Blacks in Canada, so you’re American.”

My baby has two cultures. Naming him wasn’t easy.
Washington Post
I thought this was an interesting piece – and perhaps one many international familes can relate to! When you and your partner come from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, how do you choose names for your children?
“My wife is from Ohio. I was born in Pakistan and took a detour through Massachusetts. Northern Virginia is home, except when work takes us around the world — as it has for eight of the past 10 years. For our family, “Where are you from?” has a lengthy answer. The entanglements of cultures and languages affected our choice of baby names. Shake my family tree and Muslim-sounding fruit will drop at your feet. Her people are more diverse, if your idea of diversity is the expanse between “Tim” and “Will.” After weeks of looking for a name culturally appropriate for both sides, we began to suspect that none existed.”

Why Swedes Are Chiller Parents Than Americans
The Atlantic
This post is about a book – and way more fascinating than that headline suggests! The article is an interview with one of two authors of a new book about parenting – and economics! The theory being “that economic conditions have a lot of influence on the way parents raise their children”. There’s some interesting ideas and a little data from the research that went into the book. Here’s a taste of the author’s background, just to whet your appetite!
“Fabrizio Zilibotti was born in Italy and met his wife (who’s Spanish) in London. Their daughter was born in Sweden, where she spent some of her childhood before the family moved to the U.K. and then Switzerland. As he spent time in each of these countries, Zilibotti — who now lives in the U.S., teaching economics at Yale — became intrigued by the variety of parenting philosophies he encountered, from Sweden’s laissez-faire style of child-rearing to the U.K.’s more rule-oriented approach. Parents in every country, he reasoned, loved their children more or less equally, so it seemed a little puzzling that they had such divergent ideas about what was best for their kids.”

Far Away And Growing Old
One & Only
And here’s another parent-child relationships – the difficulty of caring for ageing parents from a distance. I particularly appreciate the final sentiment – that many parents appreciate seeing their children enjoying their lives. I’ve heard similar comments from several people just in the past few weeks. Now, not all families operate this way. This advice is coming from an Australian social worker, and Australia is a highly individual culture. But there’s still good advice here, and good thinking points.
“Each situation it unique and depends on specific family circumstances but Ana McGinley, an Australian social worker working with older adults, says the two common key words are communication and planning…But above all, stop feeling guilty about being away. Worrying about ageing parents is unavoidable. But if you are too hard on yourself, if you allow the distance to become a subconscious source of constant stress, it will have a negative effect on your own life. Parents want us to keep our lives moving forward. They don’t want to be a burden. Our decision to move abroad is always reversible – but giving up on life chances offered by expat careers is not. The best thing we can do is to take care of ourselves and share our successes with the parents to keep their spirits up.”

7 tips when you have more than one culture in your life.
Linked In
A short piece, but a good breakdown of some of the ways cultural differences can impact our relationships – and our assumptions about others.
“Don’t underestimate the cultural aspect. One might put disagreements down to personality differences, and that might be partly true, but there is also a cultural aspect that, if not neglected, could contain the key to smoother relationships.”

Interview with artist Nicole Pon Horvath
Me and My Crazy Mind
I’m ending with something different – an interview with an artist, an ATCK and expatriate who finds inspiration in the different countries she has lived in.
“The environment is crucial to the outcome of my works. The nature found in each of the places I have lived is all very different, but similar in the way that it affects me and my art. Each place brings about different inspiration in the colours and materials I choose to work with… I get my inspiration from the colours in the skies I have found in Japan, Nice and Amsterdam. They are a gentle reminder of my youth in Algeria.”

Loving books, and destroying books

A few weeks after Misunderstood was first published, I wrote about “why I hope you destroy my book“. It turned out to be somewhat controversial! What does it mean, practically, to love a book? Do you keep it pristine? Do you cover it in notes? Do you keep it only for yourself? Do you lend it out indiscriminately so more people can experience it?

I decided this post was worth reflecting on because it’s a concept that comes up in conversation fairly often. I was just discussing it with someone on twitter last week. Here is an excerpt from the original post, more than two years ago:

The books I have found most helpful, the books that I have most enjoyed, the books that have meant something special to me – these are the books on my shelves that show significant signs of wear. Now, I have friends who are scrupulously careful with their books. They are plastic covered, with spines uncracked, corners unturned, pages pristine. This is how they show care for their books. But there is something passionate and personal about a book you just have to carry with you – leaving creased pages and scuffed covers. Something about a book that speaks to you so deeply you feel compelled to turn it into a journal, writing your responses, jotting down the way it reflects your heart and your story. . .

So as an author, I would like to say – it would be an honour to have my book destroyed. It would delight me to see handwritten notes and smudged pages and scratched covers. It would be a joy to see physical evidence that my words have impacted someone – sparked thoughts, touched emotions. I really hope I get to see that!

And the best part? I did get to see it!! I’ve heard stories and seen photos of different ways my book has been loved by readers around the world.

One time I was speaking at an event and heard that one of the attendees had my book and read it thoroughly and was really excited to meet me in person – but didn’t bring their book to be signed because they were embarrassed of the rough condition it was in. If that’s ever you, know that I take that as the highest compliment!

A few times people have told me they bought a second copy to loan out to others, either because they were always lending it and never had it at home themselves, or because they wanted a copy that stayed clean and safe. Either way, also a huge compliment!

And perhaps sweetest of all, one person told me they don’t like to write in books, as they consider them sort of sacred. But they really wanted a way to reference the content in my book that was impacting them, so they could refer back to it. So they used coloured tabs to mark places that were meaningful or important. And sent me this photo:

misunderstood-tabs

Another time, a student I’d known in Beijing was talking to a friend and saw that they had my book in a stack they’d borrowed from the library.

I love hearing these stories of my book out in the real world – that it exists in the hands, and on the desks and bookshelves, and in the minds and hearts, of readers around the world. Literally around the world. I know it’s been owned and read in over 30 countries now, including:

Australia, Austria, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, China, Curacao, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ghana, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, UAE, UK, USA, and Vietnam.

So please – keep reading, keep scribbling and tabbing, keep lending and sharing, and keep telling me your stories! I can’t tell you how much it means to me.

Recommended reading: February 11th, 2019

Another week, and another new Recommended Reading post. Lots of great content to choose from lately – great stories, great advice, and lots to reflect on! I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Nampa Newbie: Making the foreign familiar
Idaho Press
A family story of repatriation, and one mother trying to understand how her TCK children see (and smell!) the world they live in.
“They couldn’t quite define what it was that made that “America” smell, beyond “Christmas tree,” “clean” and “Nana’s house.” My son offered a possible explanation as to why they couldn’t break it down. “Maybe you can only smell it if you’re a TCK,” he suggested…It warmed my heart, actually, for them to speak with fondness about our new home. It’s not been an easy transition from Indonesia to America for us, especially for the kids.”

I Am Who I Am
Our Life Logs
A lovely reflection on the complications of a Third Culture childhood – and working through the hard parts to create an integrated sense of self. Really worth a read!
“Throughout different stages in my life I’ve felt confident, ashamed, or confused about my identity as a third culture kid. Sometimes it felt like a curse, other times a blessing, and often a hybrid of the two. For many people, knowing where they come from and who they are is a simple fact learned from childhood, though I’ve been on a journey to find the answers to those questions all my life…I know that the only time someone will come up to me and say, “I’m an Austrian-Taiwanese who’s a native English speaker” will be when I’m meeting one of my siblings. I feel envious when I hear people talking about going home for the holiday, because I don’t have a concrete place that I can go back to like that.”

Mixed Up: ‘I used to pretend I understood Swahili out of shame and guilt’
Metro
Similarly, another story of a mixed kid working through cultural complexity to a place of integration and peace. This piece is an interview, and another really good read:
“My parents were never threatened by some sense of cultural loss or diluting if they were accepting of others, they always taught us that the best of our culture, and other cultures, was to be celebrated…Having spent much of his childhood in a state of identity crisis, Nadir has finally reached the point where he is comfortable with the complexity of his heritage. He will never be able to tick a tidy, singular ethnicity box on any form – but he has made his peace with that.”

Make Friends in Lexington, KY
Stapleton Relocation Consulting
On the surface this is a very local-intensive post – how to make friends in a particular part of a particular country. But the principles in it are really good, and applicable almost anywhere! It may be really daunting to start making friends locally after a big move, but the three points Adrielle outlines here are great – get involved (volunteer), find shared activities, and find shared values.
“After a big international move, it can seem like a big project to start building social support in your new city. Americans are busy and that can get in the way of making friends here. But plenty of Americans are open to new friendships with people who share their values or interests. So, how do you find them?”

Fostering the Relationships in a TCK’s Life
Taking Route Blog
This is a Christian blog and has content that won’t apply to all families, but there are really good thoughts on how to help TCKs foster relationships with family and friends, even when they’re far away. And while there’s a lot of good content in this piece, I particularly appreciate this sentiment from near the beginning:
“As I think about my children and the life they have as Third Culture Kids, I’m always searching and brainstorming and studying about ways to come alongside them and help them navigate the twists and turns that are par for the course in their life. In so many ways, their childhood is much different than my own. Because of this, I know I’ll always be learning something new when it comes to raising TCKs.”

Stewarding Yourself During Change
Velvet Ashes
Another Christian blog, but again, some really good content that’s widely applicable – especially as it comes to working through transition, and how difficult (and unexpectedly difficult) it can be. The author’s explanations and suggestions include both the physical and emotional which is great.
“In the lows of culture shock, I feel self-pity, overwhelmed, paralyzed, extremely tired, or confused. My capacity for stress is very small. Some nights, without clear triggers, I experience brief surges of panic as I am falling asleep. The adrenaline that has kept me going all day doesn’t know what to do when my body wants to relax. It is like change and transition are too much for my body to mediate. Here are some ways I am learning to steward my human limitations, my giftings, my fallenness, and my brokenness in this season.”

Learn From My Experience: 3 Ways To Ensure Expat Assignment Success
CEO World Magazine
An interesting piece that starts with thinking more locally in the workplace when on an expatriate assignment. Thinking locally, and acting in line with local practice, sends a strong message to nationals we live and work alongside – especially when done in humility. The author goes on to talk about different supports that improve the chance of success for a corporate expat assignemnt (something I’ve discussed before).
“They knew I was not a corporate tourist. I was fighting in the trenches alongside the “home team” to achieve our business goals…While my family and I were able to acclimate and earn success in all our overseas assignments, it was through trial and error. That’s how I learned to stay in Tokyo to help the local team through year-end. I did the right thing for the business while still making time for family holidays and vacations. Over time, we found a balance that worked for my wife, children and me.”

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Applied to Third Culture Kids
Cross Culture Therapy
A little piece looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how they might be applied in a TCK context. Food for thought indeed!
“The goal of this article was to act as some food of thought for Adult Third Culture Kids who are currently in a life-planning phase. The comments in this article may not be relevant to your situation exactly but for those of you wondering about the next couple of years in your life it may be good to look over Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and take each level into account as you plan your next step in life.”

Expat feels

Here is another in my series of reflections on popular content from the past year. Today I’m sharing three posts from May, August and September last year. One is the most popular post I’ve ever written on this blog, and the others are in the all time top 20 most viewed. All three focus on emotional experiences connected to expatriate life.

Homesickness and the price we pay to be expats

This is the most viewed post on my blog, thanks in part to being picked up and shared by a few expat networks online. It also talks about something that’s been an important part of my expat life – openly acknowledging what this life costs me, and allowing myself to feel that pain, but alongside the sure knowledge that this was my choice. This emotional integration is an essential tool for finding contentment in life generally, but especially as expats.

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. . .

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.

Click here to read the full “Homesickness and the price” post.

Expat Guilt: Being far from family

This piece is related: part of the price of my choosing to live overseas is being far from my family. That is a choice which impacts both me and them – and that brings guilt. I made a choice which affects them, which may feel at times like loving them less. In this post I share my own struggles with this common phenomenon of expat guilt.

Video chats are amazing but they don’t take the place of cuddling a niece or nephew, of interacting with them in person. I am so thankful for sisters who work to make sure I’m a part of their children’s lives, but I still miss being able to see them in Real Life. I know what it’s like to see my grandparents in person, and how very not the same it is to be far away – especially when they don’t use the internet at all, and now struggle to keep up with even a phone call.

And then comes the guilt.

Knowing that I can only blame myself. That I’m the one who decided to go. That I could be closer but chose not to be. Knowing I valued something more highly than being near the family members I love so dearly. That’s a hard truth to face – and yet also a hard one to escape!

Click here to read the full “Expat Guilt” post.

Phantom Pain: Feeling the pieces of self you leave behind

When I decided to share this, I honestly didn’t know how it would be received. I wondered if anyone would relate, or if they would think I was weird. But I put it out there anyway. In this post I explain a lightbulb moment I had after repatriating to Australia, trying to explain how I felt about China, now that I no longer lived there. I lived in China from age 21-32; it was where I lived out almost all my adult years and grew into my own woman. And even after I’d moved to Australia and settled into a life there that I enjoyed, China still felt like a part of me – albeit a part no one else saw, a part that was not tangible. It was particularly interesting for me to reflect on this now that I’m living in China again – a move I had not expected in the slightest!

Australia didn’t really feel like home. Not completely. I had settled into a routine, I had made friends, I liked the place I lived. But something didn’t feel right. I could still *feel* another place, a place that felt like part of me. I could feel the person I’d been there, I could feel the routines I’d had there, I could almost smell and taste the place I’d left. . .

I suspect anyone who moves around has the potential to develop this kind of phantom pain. The pain of sensing a part of yourself missing – a part of you which only exists in one place, one context. Losing a language, a role, a position – something you were or had becoming invisible, unreachable. Perhaps this is an inevitable (or at least highly likely) part of connecting deeply in and to more than one place. Another price we pay for this life.

Click here to read the full “Phantom Pain” post.

Re-reading the phantom pain post now, I realise it reminds me of something I shared in a recent Recommended Reading post – from an ATCK reflecting on how the language of her childhood home is a part of her even though she hasn’t lived there for a long time, and doesn’t often use it in daily life now.

That’s my reflection on the Expat Feels I’ve written about in the past year! It’s been a rollercoaster year of transition for me, and sharing these posts with you has been good for me, too.

Recommended reading: February 4th, 2019

I finally have an up-to-date Recommended Reading post for you! Today I’m sharing some great posts from the last month. I’ve been really blown away by a wide selection of excellent TCK-specific content, as well as some more general expat issues.

My Best Friend is a Mono-Cultural; Does that make me a traitor?
We All See this World a Little Differently
This is a really important piece of writing. In it a TCK points out a common blind spot among TCKs, and asks us to reconsider prejudices we may feel are justified. There is some faith-based reflection at the end of the piece but the core argument is applicable to all TCKs:
“…one of the things we (the TCK community) pride ourselves in is being tolerant and accepting of other cultures – except the culture of our passport, apparently…When I honestly consider my own experience, I realize I would never been able to learn the US culture without a “cultural guide”. This is where our arrogance and humility intersect – we need our mono-cultural friends initially, but so often we then discredit their value once we’ve outgrown the need for them. The conclusion I’ve come to is everyone has a place at the table. I don’t believe anyone should ever discredit another person’s experience. Everyone you meet has had some experiences that are different from yours and some experiences that are shared – and this is no different for the TCK and mono-cultural citizens.”

Searching for Identity, and How to Find It
Explore Life Story
Dr Rachel Cason talks about a common TCK experience – “having multiple cultural identities”. She explains beautifully the underlying experience of adapting to others’ expectations, and suggests the important practices of “attuning to self” and self-expression in order to have a more mindful presence and find an authentic semse of self. Really helpful read for young adult TCKs in particular (which I obviously appreciate, given my current project!)
“The difficulty often lies with the ‘adapting at will’ bit of our skill set. At whose will do we adapt our presenting identity?…it is the needs of others that determines who we seem to be, rather than our own sense of who we are or who we want to be. When our identity is ‘other-need’ driven, it can feel precarious, ephemeral, inauthentic. We often carry a sense of ‘if they only knew’ into our social relationships, leaving us feeling insecure about the attachments people have to us. We doubt our relationships, holding them lightly, suspecting that they only love ‘this bit’ of us that they can see.”

Third Culture Kids Develop Valuable Career Skills
Cartus
For me, the title of this post is a little misleading. The core of this piece is the beautiful description of a young cross-cultural kid struggling with identity because of how others react to her blended reality.
“These are just a few examples of questions I was bombarded with by those who were so desperate for me to ‘choose a side’. I was quizzed by classmates, strangers, teachers, and even family members, who just could not fathom that I felt equal kinship with both places. I sincerely doubt that they knew that their interrogations were contributing to a slowly developing complex; “Where do I belong?” To be surrounded by people and yet not feel a particular affinity with any of them can be very challenging. For this reason, it is vital that we begin to see TCKs as bridges between cultures, windows into other worlds with which we are unfamiliar.”

“I’m not breaking my kids” and other things expats would like to say
The Culture Blend
I’ve seen this post by Jerry Jones popping up all over the expat-internet, and for good reason! Jerry gives a message to all the people living “at home” who have friends and family living abroad, sharing things expats wished they knew – with the proviso that not everything applies to everyone! There is so much good stuff here, I really do recommend you go and read the whole piece.
“This new place and these new people haven’t REPLACED anything – or anyone. It’s a different thing altogether but I like it, and I’m learning what it’s like to be home and miss home at the same time. And maybe you should know. I’ve changed.”

My name is not Nishihara
The Korea Times
Thought-provoking piece by TCK Olivia Han. In it she recounts an unexpected experience which helped her identify with her Korean heritage in a way she hadn’t previously.
“Born in Hong Kong, ethnically Korean, I was a U.S. citizen attending a Canadian international school with mostly Cantonese-speaking kids until we moved to Seoul in 2009. Strangely, it was only after moving to Seoul that I felt like I was not truly Korean. It was only after meeting “real” Koreans that I realized my Korean was tinged with a Western accent. I also did not feel a “oneness” with Korea, whereas in the past I always did.”

Traveling While Black Can Be Downright Bizarre
Daily Beast
A really interesting piece, especially after previous Recommended Reading about experiences of racism abroad. I won’t try to summarise, but here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

“Traveling while black is often disorienting or downright bizarre: My skin always adds another—other—layer to the experience… Even when I stand apart, I search for connections and commonalities. I do what I’ve always done—survive amidst cultural chaos. The floundering black girl forced to reinvent herself in dozens of different climates and cultures now does so assuredly, hoping to position herself—a good citizen of a global community.”

Reverse Culture Shock. Repatriation. Re-entry. Returning Home.
FIGT
Lindy Chapman shares a round up of simple but solid advice on returning to your passport country after time living elsewhere. Lots of practical advice, and acknowledgement of the potential pitfalls of these moves. A lot of this covers similar ground to my Six Tips for a Good Transition, so I definitely agree with it!
“unlike the grace period often allowed to adjust to life and work in a new land, the employee and relocation spouse typically feel pressure (real or perceived) to immediately perform at full capacity. So it’s important to be prepared (knowledge is power!) and understand that repatriation typically ignites a rollercoaster of emotions. From the excitement to return home to family and friends–to a surprising mix of sadness, alienation, disorientation…and a much slower than ever imagined readjustment to life back home that can lead to loneliness, fear, depression, and anxiety if not anticipated.”

Free counselling offered to help returning Irish emigrants
The Irish Times
And finally, a quick note of this excellent service being providing to repats in Ireland! The article has a few stats from a survey of 400 recent repats, which (unsurprisingly) found that repatriation was more difficult than expected, with 20% saying it was a significant challenge.

Lessons from a Third Culture Childhood: in summary

Last semester I wrote a four-part series called “Lessons from a Third Culture Childhood”.  In it I expanded on two “lessons” I wrote about for a China Source article – that everyone leaves, and no one understands. I talk about “lessons” because what we experience as children is what we consider ‘normal’ and this teaches us what the world is like.

Here I’ve brought all four posts from the series together, with brief summaries and quotes. These were some of the most read and most shared posts I’ve written (each of the four made it into my list of most read posts), and I also received a LOT of feedback on them, both publicly and privately. I’m glad they hit home for a lot of people, and I hope they prove useful for many, both now and in the future.

Part 1: Everyone leaves

I start the series with one of the most common phrases I heard during interviews for Misunderstood: that “everyone leaves”. I explore how this affects attitudes toward relationships, and different ways individual TCKs may respond to this lesson. Here’s an excerpt:

“Some TCKs decide it’s not worth the pain to invest in relationships, especially if they know a goodbye is imminent…Another common reaction is a highly developed ability to connect superficially – to be warm and friendly and welcoming – while holding back their deeper selves. There is great vulnerability in sharing my whole self when I know that the deeper a relationship gets, the more it will hurt when the (inevitable) goodbye comes. . .Whatever method a TCK develops to help deal with the emotional stress of goodbyes, the commonality is that this is an essential survival skill for them. The goodbyes and the losses that go with them can be very overwhelming to a child, especially because it is the only experience they know.”

I did something a little unusual with this article. Instead of ending on a happy and hopeful night, I doubled down and asked my readers to stop and consider what it really means to grow up with this lesson. I share a lot of stores, both real and hypothetical (but rooted in so many stories I’ve been told). Then I finished with one of the biggest pieces of advice I give to parents all over the world whenever I’m asked to speak about TCKs: they do not need to be fixed; they need to be heard.

“Listening to a child’s hurt is HARD – it’s painful to hear! But it is one of the greatest gifts we can offer them. Listening well says “I see you. I hear you. The way you feel is valid. You’re allowed to be sad, and you’re allowed to tell me about it.””

Part 2: What about the internet?

This was an unplanned diversion after I received several comments, publicly and privately, from TCKs and others, asking the same question: “What about the internet?” The point seemed to be that the internet provides the capacity to stay in touch with people in other places, which should take the sting out of everyone leaving. I find this idea quite unhelpful for a number of reasons, and I decided it was time to collect them coherently so I could share my thoughts on the subject.  I cover four reasons the internet doesn’t solve the “everyone leaves” problem:

  1. The internet doesn’t erase loss
    When someone leave a relationship changes. Even if connection continues, it will be a different connection – a different friendship must be negotiated.
  2. It’s not the same
    A long distance friendship isn’t the same as an in-person friendship. Not all friendships translate well to distance, and not all people find long-distance communication comfortable.
  3. It’s not just one person
    TCKs say goodbye to a LOT of people. So it’s not staying in touch with one person, it’s staying in touch with multiple people – and more of them every year. It’s just not possible to maintain that many close relationships.
  4. Who is in control?
    We’re talking about Third Culture KIDS – their ability to stay in touch with people elsewhere is often largely controlled by their parents (or friends’ parents). And no matter how old we are, there are always situations out of our control.

I finish the piece by concluding that while the internet is a great tool, and maintaining friendships over the internet is amazing, it’s just not that simple.

“The internet is a tool, and a good thing overall, for most kids in most situations. But it doesn’t solve the problem of how frequent goodbyes through childhood affect a person. It adds different opportunities, and also complications. It changes what goodbye looks like. But it doesn’t erase the underlying lesson, that “everyone leaves”.”

Part 3: after everyone leaves

In this post I offer four strategies to help TCKs manage the aftermath of absorbing the lesson that “everyone leaves”. These aren’t simple fix-it solutions, but suggestions of mindset adjustments that can be helpful.

  1. Sunk costs
    This is a concept I find really helpful: I can’t change what’s happened, so what am I going to do starting from now?
  2. Change happens
    Life involves change, no matter who you are or where you live. We all need to learn how to cope with change – running from it won’t keep up safe from the emotions that go with it.
  3. Pick your poison
    Most TCKs end up believing they have two choices: invest deeply in relationships and pay the price in grief when someone leaves, or keep things light and be safe from that pain. The point I make here is that choosing not to invest in relationships doesn’t save us from pain – it brings a different sort of pain. There’s pain invovled either way – so which would you prefer? To grieve changing freindships, or to be always alone?
  4. And THIS is where the internet comes in
    No, the internet doesn’t solve the problem, but it provides a great middle ground. I grieve losing the in-person friendship I had, but I also get the opportunity to negotiate a new long-distance friendship, which can also be very rewarding.

“This is the bottom line: you can’t go back. you can only go forward. Take the time to acknowledge hurts and grieve losses – then move forward. Make choices about where you want to go, and who you want to be, rather than what you want to avoid. Invest in people, even though it means investing in harder goodbyes. Work out what you want from life, and start building toward that.”

Part 4: No one understands

Finally, I got to the second core lesson TCKs shared in interviews: no one understands. This feeling is a very natural consequence of a cross-cultural childhood. Why is that?

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

There’s a good reason my book is titled Misunderstood. It is not a hopeless message, that it is inevitable to be misunderstood, but a hopeful one – that understanding is possible. Understanding can be built!

“Many people in a TCK’s life won’t instinctively understand their experiences. And unfortunately, it’s also true that some won’t want to try. But for those who are willing, resources like Misunderstood can help close the gap. . .But more than that, there is hope in remembering that no one completely understands anyone else. We all have to share our stories, and try to listen to what another is saying about their experiences. What we all have in common are our emotions. We have all experienced loss, fun, joy, grief. It might look different, but the emotions underneath help us empathise. Learning to connect with and express the way we feel about things we’ve been through helps others go there with us.”

This is what my book, and ultimately all my work, is about: building bridges of understanding. Giving TCKs tools to understand and articulate their experiences to others, so they might be better understood. Sharing the perspectives of TCKs with those who care for them, that they might better understand.

Thanks for sticking through this long summary – I hope it (and the full blog posts) are helpful for you. That you feel heard, encouraged, equipped.

Recommended reading catchup: November 2018

Here is my second Recommended reading catchup – great posts from November 2018 I missed out on sharing with you while I was sick.

Capable of Complexity
A Life Overseas
In this wonderful post the fabulous Marilyn talks about the struggle many TCKs have to accept that life is, for everyone, a mixture – both good AND bad, both wonderful AND difficult. She also references Misunderstood which was a very touching shout out. This piece is full of stories and well-crafted words – very much worth the time to read and consider.
“It takes many missionary kids years to accept that their experience was a complicated, beautiful package of good and hard. Owning the hard feels like a betrayal. . .For years, all I could do was claim the positive…My childhood was perfect, thank you very much, and don’t even start with the negative. . .As Tanya Crossman points out so well in her book Misunderstood, the third culture kid narrative is a perspective and not a one-size-fits-all single story. Each TCK story contains things that are deeply painful and other things that are incredibly unique and joy-filled.”

Why Gratitude is the Best Answer for Difficult Expat Emotions
World Tree Coaching
Another great post from Jodi looking at the emotional side of life from a expatriate perspective. I love her mindful approach to gratitude – not to pretend that everything is okay when it isn’t, but to make a deliberate change in perspective that allows us to see good things alongside and in spite of the bad things. This also makes it a great companion to the piece by Marilyn I shared above.
“It’s not that by being grateful we suddenly erase the shittiness of bad things that happen. I strongly disagree with the idea that in our most difficult emotions we should simply apply a little gratitude and everything will be okay. What we can see, however, is that gratitude offers us the chance to see our experiences and our emotions in the context of the larger picture.”

Pillars and Bricks: The Values Clash of Expat Wanderers and the Homebodies Who Love Them
The Culture Blend
I wasn’t really paying attention to which blog I was reading when I came across this piece. I loved it so much, then realised – of course I do. It’s another piece by Jerry. Hah! Seriously though, this is a really sensitive and helpful look at different ways people build their lives – in one place, or in many places. Neither right or wrong, merely different, and capable of holding one another’s values. I see reflections of my own relatioship with my father. I’m sure many other expats will find helpful insights here as well.
“My father is a pillar. I am a brick. His values are pillar values. Find your plot and build. Commit. Plant roots… Set your pillar and build around it. He has never shown me anything but support and respect, but I don’t make sense to him. How could I? I’m a bricklayer. I moved away. Far away. To another country. Another continent. Another world. Then I moved again. And again. And again. And again, until I finally showed some sense and came home – and then moved again. One brick and then another. That doesn’t make sense – to a pillar.”

Old Things Made New
Weird Eyes
ATCK Karissa shares a poignant reflection of her relationship with a language she left behind – and yet is still part of her. She connects this to her background as a TCK, and the coping mechanisms she came up with while creating a life for herself settled in her passport country. I really relate to her description of familiarity with a language, the way it feels to connect with a language. Especially a language people don’t think of as belonging to you.
“I like the way Chinese sounds. Familiar, but also with infinite unexplored corners. I like picking it out in a crowd, like a code that most people can’t decipher…I like being able to speak a second tongue without effort, even if I rarely use it. Like an old locket that’s always around my neck, but hasn’t been opened in a long time. It’s like opening the door of your home after a long trip away, and recognizing its smell that you can’t decipher when you’ve been living in the midst of it…Maybe I can identify myself in a realm that encompasses more than loss of things I’ve loved.”

Talk Cities To Me
TCK Town
In this piece another ATCK, Molly, talks about seductive conversations – talking to men from different places, who have lived elsewhere, and that wonderful excitement and familiarity of spending time with someone who also doesn’t entirely fit. Really lovely read.
“He left too. Again my friends reminded me that I should focus on dating men who lived in this city. I reassured them that I wouldn’t catch feelings. I just enjoyed the conversations. I liked spending my evening talking with someone about places I’ve never been and swapping our best travel stories. I’ve fallen in love with Melbourne, London, Stockholm, San Francisco and more just from talking to these men.”

How to Avoid the Expat Bubble
Global Living Magazine
Some simple advice and warm encouragement to expats to engage with the local communities we live in. The comforts of expat life can be alluring – and they aren’t bad! But plugging into ordinary life is an important part of feeling at home wherever you find yourself.
“Take the time to understand the heritage of where you are living and explore the real city. When you have guests visiting, don’t just take them to see the tourist attractions. Show them the hidden gems that you’ve discovered. By doing this, it will start to feel more like home for you too. If you aren’t sure where to go or what to see, take a walk. Sometimes, just walking and exploring a neighbourhood is the best way to find your new favourite places.”

Zooming Out to Find Perspective
Velvet Ashes
This piece makes a good point about how we look at long term friendships, especially as expats. The author reflects that no, she doesn’t have friends she’s lived alongside forever, but she doesn’t have friends she’s shared life with, and maintained bonds with. She also makes a good point about the pace of building friendships, how it is different from place to place. This is something many expats struggle with after moving back into a less transient place.
“Now that I live in a small town, I’m surrounded by people who have been friends for years, and it can tempt me to feel lonely or out of place because I don’t have a friend that goes back years and years here. However, when I zoom out and see the rich friendships I carry with me from my time overseas, I see that I have a lot of great friendships, but they look different than those of the people around me.”

Reverse Culture Shock: What it’s like moving home
Melis Living
Speaking of moving ‘home’, I appreciated this post – one woman’s experience of reverse culture shock after a short spell (one year) living overseas. There’s lots of lovely little thoughts and comments throughout. And I totally relate to not knowing what side to walk on!!!
“You feel kinda confused all the time and do some stupid things. I often forget which side of the stairs or escalator to be on and end up getting in people’s way. . . Luckily moving home has had far more positives than negatives and overall I am so happy we are back. I can’t really explain the feeling but I literally am like a different person since we returned. I prioritise what matters, I don’t let people get to me as much and I just have this nice feeling of contentment and happiness! Moving abroad seriously does change your mindset.”

I’m going to FIGT 2019 – are you?

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

figt-earlybird

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

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

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

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

Newcomers

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

Presentations

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

 

Recommended Reading catchup: September-October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

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

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

Stephanie

Read the full post on China Source