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”.

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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.”

TCKs and their tattoos

A couple of times in the past two weeks I’ve stumbled into discussions on one particular topic: tattoos, and TCKs who get them. Over the years I’ve heard lots of tattoo stories from TCKs around the world. I’ve come across a lot of shared tattoo trends, and thought it was time to write a blog post to share what I’ve learned about TCK tattoos.

The TCK tattoo trends I’ve observed fall into three general categories, representing different connections: to places, to languages, and to values. Often these sorts of tattoos combine elements of all three.

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 have a sleeve involving all the flags of the countries I have lived in. It’s helped me have a better understanding of moving around and trying to find my place in everything.” – Noah

Connection to places

Part of the TCK experience is connecting to places – usually more than one place, usually at least one place where you are not legally connected (no passport), perhaps a place where you are visibly foreign, perhaps a place you haven’t been to in many years. Whatever the reason, it’s very common for TCKs to have at least one place they feel a strong connection to which is not seen as a legitimate connection by others. A place that feels like home, but which they don’t feel completely justified calling home.

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.

Examples of place tattoos I’ve come across include:

  • longtitude/lattitude or GPS coordinates
  • maps (a country/region outline, subway diagram, stylised road map, etc.)
  • a list of countries/cities
  • passport stamps
  • flags
  • symbols of place (a local flower, native animal, etc.)
  • location/s in which tattoos were inked (rather than the content of the tattoo)

“My tattoo is a Chile flag wraparound a heart. The meaning was my heart will always be for Chile. It’s a constant reminder that while I have left the country and the culture my heart still wants to be in Chile.” – Alicia

“The outline of your spirit is etched on my skin. The grid that runs through my blood.” – Lara

Connection to languages

Language is a huge part of how we communicate with each other, and therefore it’s unsurprising that we often have strong emotional ties to languages. A language-based tattoo highlights a TCK’s connection to a particular language. It can also bring multiple languages together.

Not all TCKs are multi-lingual. Some carry guilt, sadness, or regret over languages they don’t speak (or don’t speak as well as they think they “should”). Even those who do speak more than one language spend much of their lives compartmentalising each language to certain people and places.

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.

Examples of langauge tattoos I’ve come across include:

  • a word/phrase from a language the TCK feels a connection to
  • a single word written in several langauges/scripts
  • their own name, in one or more different scripts
  • names of places in the language of that place
  • a quote from one culture written in the language of another culture

I have one that that means “to have found the place you call home” in Gaelic – very meaningful to carry a bit of home around with me on my arm!” – Iona

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“After growing up in the city of 长春 in Northeast China from when I was 1-18 years old I decided to get this tattoo before I left as I did not know when or if I would ever be back.” – Daniel

Connection to values

Tattoos can also show the importance of certain values a TCK holds, values which may set them apart in certain settings. This is a category of tattoos that may not be location or language specific, but still connect closely to childhood experiences and emotional connections developed through international life. Those experiences create connections to certain concepts and values.

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.

Examples of values tattoos I’ve come across include:

  • the value of having roots (shown with trees, or plants)
  • the value of travel (plane, airports, world map, compass)
  • cultural values
  • relationships (especially family)
  • “group” tattoos (where several closely connected people choose to get the same tattoo, expressing shared locations or values, as well as the importance of their relationships with each other)

“My tattoos are focused on what has impacted my life: my family, my Chinese origins, and Texas. I particularly love my Chinese Hanzi, which roughly translates to ‘loyalty to family’ with extremely strong character meanings. The placement was also carefully picked along the symbolic weakness of my Achilles tendon.” – Abigail

I had heard these sorts of stories and seen these sorts of tattoos for years before it became way more personal – because I got a tattoo of my own, combining all of the elements I’ve described here! It’s not something I talk about much, especially not publicly (mine definitely falls more in the private consolation category). But writing about this now – yep, it’s definitely time to tell my own tattoo story. So stay tuned for that next week!

Click here to read the story of my own international tattoo

Recommended reading: March 25th, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! This week I’m sharing a few very powerful posts, a few really sweet stories, and a few slices of expat life and advice.

What Have I Done to My Children?
Everyone needs a little Grace in their lives
This article should be required reading for every expat parent. It is beautiful and touching and challenging and oh so important. In it, ATCK Amy reflects on her own international childhood, how she always wanted that for her own kids, but now that they have it – she remembers all the difficulties of the life she’s chosen for them. It’s so hard to choose only a small section to share here, and I really hope you all go and read the whole thing. These are important questions, important reflections, for every parent – especially those raising children between worlds.
“But as I dreamed that life for my kids, I failed to remember the grief. It is easy to remember all the great stuff but naively think I would be able to protect my kids from all the hard stuff. . .I look into my children’s stony faces, steeling themselves against another loss; I hear the if I’m here in their voices and I remember my own childhood–the part I don’t like to remember. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” I’ll say without a moment’s hesitation. But is it fair to impose on them the pain that goes with it? Do I have the right to say to them, “This is going to hurt a whole lot, but it will be worth it?” I guess that’s the thing about parenting–we make all these choices for these small people under our care, and they don’t get any say in it.”

Dear Third Culture Kid
CulTure miKs: A website for TCK art
This is an incredibly powerful piece of writing – a letter to a Third Culture Kid, from one who’s been there, on behald of many who understand, and offer welcome. There is so much in here – so much to hear about the heart cry of so many TCKs around the world. So much to learn about how they feel, and see the world. Not all of this will be true of every TCK, but a lot of it will resonate with a lot of people.
“Dear Third Culture Kid, I know how wonderful it feels to find that friend you’ve been praying for only to know you’ll have to leave soon. I know the dark feeling that crosses your heart when you wonder if it is even worth it. I know how you feel when you think it is safer to live in your lonely world so your heart will never break with the never ceasing goodbyes. I’ve felt that cold sad ache in your belly knowing you could never see your friend again. I know how much safer it feels – but how hard lonely can be – when you block yourself off from everyone and choose to live in books and movies instead. I know you’d rather say “See you later” than “Goodbye.” “

Trying to Fit in When you Can’t Help But Standout
Webb of Learning
A really great post that expresses both the difficulty of not looking like you belong in the country where you live, but also recognising that this comes alongside the benefits of living abroad. There’s lots of good stuff I want to quote! I’ll stick to one paragraph – and urge you to go read the rest of the post for yourself!
“Some days, I just want to go somewhere and understand what the workers are asking me. When Japanese people approach me they assume I am a tourist, they never assume that I live here. What does that tell you? I don’t fit in. That begins to weigh on you. When you constantly feels eyes on you, or people in stores flee from the racks near you, it can be a lot on a bad day. On the flip side of that, it is also amazing to learn so much in such a short time. I feel as though moving here has forced me to really think differently. I had to relearn how to live my day to day life, which is tedious, but also eye opening.”

The Expat Trap: pressing pause on your life
Expitterpattica
A really interesting piece about perception of time in expat assignments – if I’m going to be in a place for “only” two years, that sense of “only” will affect how I invest my time. Really worth thinking through!
“We move abroad already thinking ‘this will not be forever.’ ‘We’ll be gone for two years.’ What’s two years? Nothing, it goes by in a flash. We switch our brains into temporary mode which re-frames everything. With each of our seven international moves I have felt the pressure of time. Too short to start anything, too long not to. That pressure can be paralyzing. So, what’s the answer? For me, it’s to take Time out of the equation. Instead of viewing my life as little chunks of time in many different places I switched to looking at my life as a continuum, one long story that happens to play out in multiple locations. The story continues even when the place changes.”

From Dubai to Ghana, a real expat’s story
Santa Fe Relocation
The ever wonderful Mariam shares the story of her family’s recent move to Ghana.
“The reason I keep moving, is because expat life continues to offer me and my family so many great opportunities. Yes, it wreaks havoc with my sense of identity, my phone has 8 different time-zones on it, my bed linen bought all over the world doesn’t match (why can’t they make just one international size?), my kitchen appliances can’t run without adaptors, I’ve become an expert in butchering every new language I learn, I can never remember my new home address or indeed where I packed those suede boots! But what makes me say ‘yes’ to a new move is the fact that I love the constant process of turning a new country into a new home. Of raising my kids in a new corner of the world, with several different languages and cultures. I love the spice, variety, fun and unpredictability it brings to my life. I love how moving to a new country is the best adventure anyone could ever have, because you open your hearts and minds to new places, people and ideas. And it changes you forever, in the most wonderful way possible.”

The Choice of Change
Stephanie Johnson Consulting
Stephanie applies insights from The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz to the expatriate life.
“Despite sometimes feeling overwhelmed with decisions, I’m not ready to give up the choices that my international life gives me. How can we keep from feeling paralysed with indecision and regret amidst all of the choice we have? Here are a few suggestions”

An American at an Afghani Birthday Party in Switzerland
Remfrey Educational Consulting
A sweet story of cross-cultural engagement…
“Throughout our conversations, I could feel everyone’s eyes as we were the only non-Afghanis at the party. However the gazes did not feel judgmental. They felt curious just as I was feeling curious. How did it come to be that 25 Afghani families and 1 American family were sitting in an industrial building in Switzerland celebrating a child’s birthday? The probability seemed impossible, but there we sat and enjoyed each other’s company. . .I enjoy being in the minority every once in a while. It puts me in another’s shoes if only for the length of a birthday party. It re-orientates my understanding of the world just a little bit and provides perspective I wouldn’t otherwise have had.”

Searching for an origin
Khmer Kronicle
This post is worth a read for the very sweet story of a cross-cultural child trying to answer the question “where are you from?” while a stranger tries to guess. After enjoying the story and deciding to share it I realised the post then goes on to talk about TCK resources, including Misunderstood, and a link to a guest post I wrote for A Life Overseas. So that was a nice surprise for me!
“The stranger tried to answer his own question based on my children’s accents. “England? New Zealand?” His guesses sort of surprised me, but my son’s answer surprised me more. “THAILAND!””

Supporting TCK research

Today Beijing is beautiful – sunny, crisp, with trees budding green and bursting blossoms. It’s wonderful! Most of the past month, however, has been very polluted. This has played havoc with my newly asthmatic lungs, so I’ve lost a lot of time, energy, and concentration dealing with health issues. So I’m taking a week off blogging, giving myself some metaphorical breathing room to go with the physical!

Instead of a normal blog post, I’m going to take this opportunity to let you know about the Patreon I just launched. Patreon is a platform that allows public sponsorship of individual creators. With a patreon account you can send a few dollars a month to people whose work you believe in and want to support.

I’ve set up my Patreon to support my research work into Adult Third Culture Kids. I do not have grants or any other financial support for my research and writing. When I wrote Misunderstood I had a number of (offline) supporters who sponsored me financially, which allowed me to invest the huge amount of time required. As I start my newest project, it’s quickly becoming clear that this book will take far more time to complete. As it stands, trying to fit it into my “spare” time, I can’t imagine it being finished before 2023. I would really love to spend more time on it, but I can’t do that without help.

I’ve received so much encouragement from ATCKs who want to see this book become a reality, and believe in the importance of what I’m doing. If you are one of the people who believes this book needs to be written, written well, and made available to adult Third Culture Kids, please consider supporting me. Anyone who sponsors me $2 a month will have access to “inside information” – early statistics and topics of interest coming up in my research. (Tomorrow I’ll be sharing some information on my current survey sample!)

I know that even $2/month is out of reach for some – if that’s you but you still want to support my work, you can really help me out by spreading the word. You can follow me on my various social media accounts, share them with friends you think would be interested in cross-cultural resources, and interact with what I’m posting. If you’ve read my book, writing a review (on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook – or all three!) would be a huge help!

Find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Find Misunderstood on Amazon, Goodreads, and more.

Thank you for reading and supporting my continued efforts to create resources for cross-cultural individuals, families, and communities.

Click here to take a look at my Patreon page – complete with introduction video!

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Recommended reading: March 18th, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! I have some really interesting posts to share with you this week – thinking about international interaction with language, discrimination, grief, anger, and more.

The Myth of the Polyglot TCK
Cross Culture Therapy
I really appreciate this piece! It picks apart some of the misguided beliefs about TCKs and language skills. As I continue interviewing adult Third Culture Kids about their experiences, I’ve had a lot of conversations about language and the emotions connected to be able – or unable – to speak a certain language, and the guilt that often goes with lack of fluency. This piece underlines a lot of the practical realities that play into the whole topic.
“There is an urban legend of sorts that Third Culture Kids are preternaturally gifted with the ability of being fluent in multiple languages. I want to disabuse anyone and everyone of that romantic notion…Oftentimes, if a TCK is a “polyglot” (or “at least” bilingual), there is a great mismatch and gap between skills within at least one of their “fluent” languages. This is why there are grown adults who speak like little children, or have glaring knowledge holes (such as being able to speak intelligently about engineering but unable to order food), or are illiterate even though their speaking is relatively advanced…If you’re a TCK, don’t feel like you have to be (equally) fluent in two languages, never mind several.”

Channeling Anger into Better Relationships
TCK Town
Lovely piece about working through cross-cultural communication. The author contrasts Australian and Pakistani cultural and logistical systems, and the tension of expecting one and getting the other. I really appreciate the deep thinking and personal approach Danish applies.
“My understanding of anger was very much an Australian individualistic one, where the parts of the engine should be working seamlessly. Anything short of that, requires an overhaul, and befits anger, leading to entitlement. My experience in Pakistan showed that anger at a personal level solves little, at least when internalised and passed onto the person you’re interacting with. Better to channel that anger into building relationships and moving forward.”

An Adoptee’s Return: Lea Wright [Ethiopia]
The Black Expat
Powerful interview with a TCK born in Ethiopia and adopted by [white] American parents living there as expatriates, then repatriated to the US (where she’d never lived previously), and finally spent time in Ethiopia as an adult. I’m not going to say more – I’ll just implore you to go read this story for yourself!
“Everyone’s token black friend, I represented diversity in almost every situation. I was in majority white situations most of the time. It was kind of living in this balance of where they are telling me I have to be this Madea character, but they also don’t like black people. So how do you find the in-between? I think I always tried to scrub the black out of myself and push away my Ethiopian heritage to fit what other people needed because I could just sense that racial tension in almost every environment… . It was so restorative in ways I could not have imagined. Being back in Africa — it doesn’t even matter where. I felt my entire body just had the ability to [finally] breathe. The ability to blend in…I would’ve never considered. Nobody noticed that I’m different, which is so funny because we spend so much time in the States talking about what makes us unique and what makes you stand out. But for the first time, I didn’t standout and it was the most freeing thing I had experienced. It was powerful. It felt for the first time, I was being seen as Ethiopian.”

Expat Grief: When You Can’t Get Home in Time
Midwesterner Abroad
An emotive piece about the realities of living internationally – and the inevitable experience of long-distance loss. Includes some powerful personal stories, and also some helpful practical tips for how to cope.
“One of the realities of living a well-traveled life, and meeting and befriending people who are open to the world is having your heart fractured in a million different directions. You can never go home again, not completely, because home isn’t one place or just a few people anymore and no matter where you go, you’re leaving someone dear to you behind because you’re not the only one who’s moved away. Having everyone (or nearly everyone) important to you in one house, one town, or even on one continent becomes impossible. Seeing the world, and falling in love with other cultures is exhilarating, enriching, and worthwhile. But just like staying in one place—sometimes it’ll be hard, and sometimes VIPs will leave the game without your consent or approval, never to return.”

Language has become a tool for social exclusion
The Conversation
Fascinating article from last month highlighting the role of language in social inclusion/exclusion, and how this affects those of migrant and minoity communities. Language is how we access, well, everything! Lots of important issues raised and concerns articulated in a compact piece of writing.
“On the one hand, multilingualism is associated with mobility, productivity and knowledge creation…On the other, monolingualism (speaking only one language) is still perceived as both the norm and the ideal for an allegedly well-functioning society. Linguistic diversity is seen as both suspicious and costly… Language, held up as a sign of belonging, becomes a gatekeeper for inclusion/exclusion, regulating access to citizenship and education, health and legal protection. The responsibility for success or failure falls firmly on the shoulders of the “other” – the migrant, the minority member, the one who “does not fit in”.”

Raising Global Citizens
One & Only Blog
This post is from last December but I only came across it recently. In it the author gives a really helpful overview of raising her sons overseas, with the inherent challenges and opportunities. She responds to concerns others had about this lifestyle, and how it worked for her family. Great read!
“When my children were little, I heard many times that it would be irresponsible of me, a single mother of two, to follow my passion and take my kids to post-conflict places or countries in a permanent state of transition. And there were, indeed, some tough moments… Still, such extreme situations were rare. I always believed that I could make it work, and I learned how to make it work for myself and for the boys. Even though every time we moved, we had to start from zero, with each move it became easier to make practical arrangements that would give my children a sense of a stable “home”, wherever we were.”

Monday Morning Musings #39 – Being an International Woman
Monday Morning Emails
A lovely piece by the ever wonderful Jo Parfitt reflecting on being an international woman in different contexts – and what discrimination has and has not looked like in her experience.
“Sure, discrimination exists everywhere to a certain degree and unconscious bias makes the Dutch tend to hire tall people and drag queens look for roommates from the LGBT community. But nothing has affected me and prevented me from going for my dreams. These two films have made me realise, as International Women’s Day passed by last Friday, that I have had three decades living in freedom as an International Woman. I’m lucky. So lucky. I’m just saying. Just musing.”

10 Essential Expatriate Travel Skills
Djibouti Jones
And to finish, a fun-but-still-real piece on the different skills we acquire in different settings!
“I recently met a woman who heard I have lived in the Horn of Africa for sixteen years WITHOUT AMAZON PRIME. She figured that was probably the hardest thing about those sixteen years. If she only knew…”

 

TCKs and the social implications of race

Recently I read an article about a Brazilian reporter “learning” as an adult that she was black. As Conceição Freitas writes, “I wasn’t born black, but from the time I was a very young girl my hair told me that I was from another class. I was raised in Belém, the land of caboclos (European-Indian mixture), half Indians, half blacks. If my skin was not black as coal, maybe I wasn’t black. It is probable that something in myself the girl has formulated this conclusion not to complicate my life even more.” It was only later, as an adult, that she came to a place of identifying with her black-ness, in large part due to her work as a reporter.

“I did a series of reports on blacks in the capital of the country – pele preta (black skin) is confined to the poorer satellite cities, the entrances of the blocos, the service counters and, because it’s now chic, in the designer stores of the Vogue style magazines… What made me black, after all this course of denial, fear and emptiness, were the pretas (black women) and the pretos (black men) who put before me the mirror of my color, shoulder to shoulder, equal to equal… There is a story that constitutes me: it is the history of my country, of the people of which I am a part. It is tragic, it is cruel, it is suffering, it is deep, it is strong, it is powerful, it is creative, it is joyful, it is solidary.”

The article is called: “Black? Who me?! It took me over 30 years to learn to be black”: A journalist explains the process that led her to becoming a black woman. and you can click here to read the full article on the website Black Women of Brazil.

On its own this is not exactly an expat/TCK related post, but I still thought about including it in a Recommended Reading post. Then I realised the reason it resonated with me is it’s a topic that’s coming up a lot in my current research on adult TCKs. I decided that instead of a quick introduction in a Recommended Reading post, I would take time to share with you some thoughts that are still in process.

My current research looks at adult TCKs and some of the long term impacts of international childhood experiences. I’m asking ATCKs about what they find difficult to adapt to, what lessons were most helpful, what areas they felt least prepared for. Issues of race, racism, and privilege have come up frequently. I have spent a lot of time recently considering the experiences of TCKs grappling with the implications of race.

What does it mean to be a person of colour in a country which has social and historical baggage of racism and privilege? And especially, how do you deal with this a young adult who has not participated in that social history as a child/adolescent?

What does it mean to go from being a racial minority expat to a racial majority local – and how do you understand your position of privilege in both settings, especially when you don’t feel a connection to the experience of privilege in your passport country?

How do you handle encountering racism as a young adult when you are new to the culture that formed it in your peers? Whether you are the object of racist treatment, or watch peers who look like you treating those of a different skin tone disparagingly?

How do you learn to see the privilege inherent in white skin when you are accustomed to it being someting that makes you stand out, your features stared at and perhaps mocked? When you grew up knowing you had privileged foreigner status, but that this was also attached to a darker side of attention?

I’ve now heard many young adult TCKs tell me stories of “learning” as adults that they are people of colour. The social implications of their ethnicity were very different in the international environment of expatriate existence. Moving to their passport country, or even to another international destination but into a local community, gave them a different awareness of race and what it means.

TCKs of East Asian heritage who grew up in East Asian counties before moving to western countries for university have told me of feeling they don’t fit into the cultural narratives there of what it means to be Asian. Especially when moving to their passport countries, these TCKs feel a sense of disconnect with the views and experiences others assume are theirs due to their skin colour.

TCKs of African heritage who have moved to live in the US, especially those with US passports (through birth or acquired later) talk about feeling both African and American, but definitely not African-Ametican – because that identity implies a whole range of history and experiences they do not share.

TCKs with mixed racial heritage have talked about how normal their background seemed while attending international schools – how normal it WAS in those contexts. Easily accepted and understood with little or no comment by their peers and even by teachers and other adults in the expat community. Yet on leaving that world, they experienced the discomfort of suddenly being seen as somehow “exotic” by others.

All of these TCKs have shared, to some extent, the experience of “learning” their racial identity as adults. I think that’s why this article resonated with me. As I said, I’m early in my research, but this is one of the issues I’m mulling over and plan to address in my new book. If you’re an ATCK with experiences you’d like to share, please get in touch with me – I’d love to hear your thoughts and add your perspective to the research I’m compiling. And if you’re interested to hear not about my research – including more on this topic – consider supporting me on Patreon. $2 a month gives you access to statistics and insights from my research as I work toward writing my next book – content I share exclusively with my patrons.

Recommended reading: March 11th, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! This week’s typically eclectic mix covers TCK research history, boarding school, medical treatment overseas, and several pieces on grief. And don’t miss the last post I’ve highlighted – on the intersection of art and cultural heritage.

Globally Mobile Children: One Tribe or Many? (part 1)
Globally Grounded
I’m starting this week with an absolutely excellent post from Jane at Globally Grounded, looking at the history of experiences and terminology surrounding TCKs and CCKs. A perfect complement to my current series on intersectionality in CCK identities.
“Ruth recognized, regardless of nationality, sponsor or where they lived, TCKs and their families shared a culture of living outside their home, between nations or in between spaces and never being of the host country. She realized this as a culture, based on the shared experience and not geography, nation, ethnic group, race or nationality. “This was really hard for other sociologists to swallow because for a sociologist, a culture is based in a geography or skin color or something like that,” said Ann. Having identified and named this new tribe, Ruth then recruited a lot of people to do PhD research of TCKs. This was the first real body of research on this culture. It helped identify some of the characteristics that we recognize today.”

Third Culture Kids & Knowing a Place “well enough” to belong
Life Story Therapies
Something that’s already coming up in early interviews for my newest project is how to define concepts like home and belonging, and how important they actually are. As I’ve talked with adult TCKs around the world, we have stumbled on a number of words to help illustrate home – and familiarity is one of them. In this post, Rachel expounds on this idea beautifully.
“…perhaps a place becomes significant also by our sheer familiarity with it. While it’s both tempting and natural to align belonging entirely to emotional attachment, might the experience of belonging not simply be about feelings? Belonging to or having a sense of ownership of a place could also be about “knowing it well enough”. For Tanya French, this meant well enough to set a book in it. What does this line of thought do? For me, it opens up the meaning of belonging to place. Those places previously dismissed as less significant to my story suddenly gain in stature. I realise that what they may lack in terms of intensity of affection or cultural memory, they make up for in familiarity and geographical constancy. I know them. Not just the people and memories and experiences they hold. I know the streets, the tricks of light on the buildings, the weather cycles, the transport system! I know them well enough.”

Things I Would Not Say To A Boarding School Mom
Every Single Page
I really appreciate this post. In it a missionary mum discusses in detail what it means for their family that her children attend boarding school – how they came to the decision and how it looks for them practically. Parenting is no easy job! No matter where you are, the decisions you make affect your child’s future – and you have no guarantee that it will all work out. I especially appreciate her honesty in wrestling with how her children will potentially feel in the future. Mostly, I appreciate her openness and honesty with the fact that there are no easy answers.
“Being a boarding school mom is not something I talk a lot about online. Honestly, in part because I haven’t quite wrapped my brain around it yet. In part because in the year 2019, who tells other moms that this is the chosen educational route for your kids? What kind of family chooses this as a schooling option? Especially a family who loves homeschooling, unschooling, world schooling and adventuring together? I get asked a lot of questions about boarding school. I get asked how I’m doing, how are the girls doing, how did we make this decision, what impact has it had on our family. I also get comments and thoughts and opinions, said and unsaid, about boarding school, having our girls away from home and our journey raising third culture kids. For us, this decision did not come easy. It wasn’t something we planned for or happily chose. In fact, it was something I said I would NEVER do.”

Lawnmower Parents
April J. Remfrey (LinkedIn)
And now for a very different parenting post! This discussion of “Lawnmower Parents” and the temptation for a parent to control a child’s activity out of fear of is really interesting. While not necessarily specific to expats, I definitely see a lot of expat parents struggling with fears and anxieties over how international life will affect their children. Here’s the basic concept:
“A helicopter parent is an overprotective parent who discourages independence, hence hovering like a helicopter. A lawnmower parent is one that does whatever they can to clear all challenges from their child’s path, hence the lawnmower which mows down everything. Another way of helping your child rather than mowing down the difficulties for them is to offer two ways of helping: Idea Generator or Intervention Assistance. The question I always ask is this: “Would you like ideas on how to solve the issue or would you like my help intervening with the issue?” Most of the time, students will prefer that suggestions of solutions are given rather than the adult intervening.”

3 Reasons Why We Need to Talk About Grief
Sugi Says
I love this piece. Again, not expat/TCK specific, but so appropriate. Grief is a big part of transience – with every change, there is loss. Every friend who moves away, every home we leave, every person we can’t be closer to. In this short piece, the author builds a case for expressing grief, even though some cultures discourage this.
“I was built around the mentality that I have to be stronger, that I have to push harder. As I have grown older and experienced more losses, I have come to the conclusion that we will experience loss many times in our lives. Whether it’s the end of a friendship, a relationship, or the passing of someone you love, loss just follows us around like an itch we just can’t scratch. We all experience grief and loss in our own unique way”

Woman’s viral thread perfectly breaks down how grieving feels over time
Some eCards
Also on the topic of grief, this viral thread from twitter is doing the rounds. I love it – such an incredible illustration of why grief continues to pop up and again and again over time, long after we think we “should” be over it. After months, even years, of feeling fine – the grief hits, without warning. The illustration goes that grief is a ball, and pain is a button. When the grief is new, the ball is huge, and cannot move around the room of your life without hitting the pain button frequently. But through time and work, the grief lessens. The pain button is still there, and can still be hit by the ball, but as the grief shrinks the likelihood of it running into the pain button lowers.

Ghosts Know No Borders
Medium
And since we’re on the topic of grief, here’s a post I was recently reminded of. Originally posted on I Am A Triangle two years ago, it popped up on Medium two months ago and I thought it was worth mentioning here. In it Jodi Harris describes the way the grief of losing someone follows you around the world. The people you love and care about are part of your everyday life, even when they live – and die – on a different continent.
“Whether intentional or accidental, we escape a lot in this lifestyle. Sometimes it’s not all that bad to be far away. It gets comfortable to not have to deal, to be able to bail or to say — “Oh, it’s just so far. Not this year.” But we also miss so much we never thought we’d have to miss — death, funerals, hospice, chemo. But whether we stay or go, they find us. Ghosts know no borders. By intention or accident, they find us. But that works for us. Expats know how to deal with wandering. We know what it means to carry. To pack it all inside, to take it out again, to look one more time. To remember whenever and wherever you need to, in the corners and crevices of past lives and right now, so that the memory can follow you everywhere — because you’re everywhere. And now the people you’ve lost are everywhere too.”

The Challenges and Opportunities in Managing a Health Condition Abroad Part I
FIGT
A really helpful post about how different medical treatment can be for expatriates – and how those differences translate into extra stress. This is something I wrote a little about in a post on my personal blog, describing some of my experience going to a local hospital for treatment.
“…many expats and travelers, have little, if any, knowledge or information about the local healthcare system until they are faced with a crisis. The process, coverage, and payment protocols differ greatly from country-to-country, but we often make assumptions that our healthcare experiences will be similar to those in our native country (or our last country of residence). Regardless of the outcome, assumption and lack of knowledge add undue stress to an already stressful situation…Or rather, miscommunication, or misunderstandings with healthcare providers due to a language barrier or cultural differences in communication styles and expectations is a real roadblock. Even routine check-ups and screenings can be put off or missed altogether.”

Through Food Art, Asian-Americans Stop ‘Pushing Heritage To The Back Burner’
NPR
Finally, I’m finishing with something a little different. A post about the collision of food, culture, and art. This post shares the art and stories of three differnt Asian American artists who are connecting cultural identity through art that centres food. Great example of the power of art to express feelings and connect people. And some really lovely stories, too!
“Growing up in Central Jersey, Shih thought “you had to be white to be cool, and that being Taiwanese was inherently uncool,” she says. “I pushed my heritage to the back burner. Being [Asian] wasn’t something I was proud of.” … So in July 2018, Shih started sculpting [dumplings] out of porcelain…”I don’t know why, but it was meditative for me,” says Shih. “I fold them just how you make real dumplings. The only difference is that there isn’t anything inside.” … Wilson finds Shih’s ceramic dumplings “supremely comforting.” To her, they represent the Asian-American community — the pride in their cultures and the struggle to belong.”

Are immigrant kids TCKs?

Continuing my series of posts looking at commonalities and intersectionalities among Cross Cultural Kids, today I’m tackling a question I hear a lot: “are immigrant kids TCKs?”

I have been approached a number of times by people who immigrated as children, saying they really identified with a lot of the content in Misunderstood. Some really grabbed onto the vocabulary of being Third Culture Kids, even though they did not technically fit the description. I think this is largely because there is a similar but opposite dymanic happening for the immigrant kid and the TCK.

In both cases, the child is caught between two cultural influences and allegiances: the place in which they live, and the place from which their parents came (before or after having children). Both immigrant kids and TCKs experience the tension of differing expectations – which country is their “real” home? Which country are they really “from”? Questions from others – friends, family members, and strangers – can all add confusion and a sense of pressure.

Both immigrant kids and TCKs have dealt with living between these different countries, cultures, and expectations. There is a great deal of emotional resonance between their experiences. And yet, they are not the same. Children of immigrants, and child immigrants, are absolutely Cross Cultural Kids – they belong to the wider umbrella of cross cultural childhoods. But there is a distinct difference as well, so I would not call immigrant kids TCKs. (Although there is definitely a segment of Cross Cultural Kids who are both TCKs and also immigrant kids.)

But this is an example of why I think it’s so important to shift the conversation to discussing Cross Cultural Kids generally, not just TCKs. The overlaps in the experiences of Immigrant Kids and TCKs are real, the resonance in their emotional landscape is real. It means that resources ostensibly for TCKs may be really useful for some immigrant kids, and resources ostensibly for immigrant families may be really useful for some expatriate families. Widening our view of what it means to grow up cross culturally allows for the inclusion more people, and for connection between more people through shared experiences.

Now, in this example, how can understanding the similarities between the experiences of immigrant kids and traditional TCKs (without ignoring the differences) help both groups?

Both immigrant kids and traditional TCKs share the conflict of expectation to connect to their parents’ cultures, while living in a different culture.

This means many can identify with each other’s similar struggles in this area, such as accusations of “betraying” one culture by attaching to the other (and perhaps vice versa).

Both immigrant kids and traditional TCKs bridge the two cultures (the parents’ culture and the host culture) due to their parents’ decisions on behalf of the family.

This means many can identify with each other’s feelings about being born/brought into a situation of cultural complexity beyond their control.

And, as with all Cross Cultural Kids, both immigrant kids and traditional TCKs share the experience of navigating lives of cultural complexity – with all the innate pros and cons that come with it.

There are limits to the overlaps in their experiences, however. An immigrant kid has legal status in the country where their family now lives. A Third Culture Kid, however, generally lives in a country they know they will leave, and may not have the option to stay. This “unrequited love” is a feeling immigrant kids may well be able to deeply sympathise with, but do not share.

Both may share the experience of being seen as “foreign” in a place they love and are very familiar with – but Third Culture Kids don’t often deal with being seen as “foreign” in a country that legally recognises them. (Unless they have the intersectional cross cultural experiences such as being part of a minority group, etc.)

These differences mean it is also important to recognise the distinctiveness of their different cross cultural experiences. In Misunderstood I collected the experiences of a wide range of TCKs – different parents’ work (missionaries, foreign service, corporate, educators), different schools (international school, local school, boarding school, homeschool) and different experiences of transience (a long time in one country, frequent moves, first move happening in high school). It was important to recognise the distinct differences in these different types of Third Culture experiences. But it was also helpful to express their commonalities.

In the same way, while immigrant kids and traditional TCKs are distinct experiences – they are not the same – the commonalities they share as Cross Cultural Kids are real and worthy of recognition. If an immigrant kid finds TCK resources like Misunderstood helpful – fantastic! That’s great to hear. The more resources available, the better. But I also hope to see more resources developed for Cross Cultural Kids generally that will openly include the wider and more nuanced range of experiences that exist among CCKs.

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

Recommended reading: March 4th, 2019

Welcome to another edition of Recommended Reading!

Meeting the Emotional Needs of TCKs
Lauren Wells (LinkedIn)
This post not only contains incredibly helpful advice for parents on how to meet their TCKs’ emotional needs, it also gives the best summary I’ve seen for why this is so important – especially since so many of the parents I talk to are so loving and caring and trying so hard. I could quote the whole post to you – it’s that good! Please read it – starting with this explanation on that all important why:
“The challenge that I often run into when discussing the topic of “unmet needs” with parents of TCKs is that they, most often, are wonderful parents who have done a fantastic job of meeting their children’s emotional and physical needs and therefore, they don’t think that this will be an issue. Unfortunately, I believe that this contributes to why the issue of “unmet needs” is so prevalent among TCKs. During high-stress seasons (such as transitions to and from living overseas), the children’s need for emotional support goes up while their parent’s mental and physical capacity to meet their children’s needs (and even their own!) goes down. This often results in stressed-out parents who have children with unmet emotional needs. Even the most fabulous, attentive parents can run into this challenge if it is not consciously combatted.”

Jakarta Transitions
Third Culture Thoughts
In this piece a young adult TCK muses on coming “home” to a place that both does and doesn’t feel like home. There is familiarity, and nostalgia, but also the knowledge that time has changed both person and place. I also appreciate the way different aspects of transition are parsed – not just place, and language, but changes to both work routine and social life. A great snapshot of a well-examined life in transition.
“While some areas of Jakarta have changed a lot, some haven’t too much. Even little subtle things, like phrases, body language, and mannerisms just feel good to recognise. At the same time, I’m also a different person coming back here, and the way I grew up here wasn’t exactly normal. Growing up as an expat kid means that your exposure to the culture around you is mixed and can vary a lot. When I went to the US later, people would sometimes try to figure me out and assume that 14 years should be enough to determine my sense of identity, but I knew very well that I didn’t really qualify. Today, I know that any sense of identity that isn’t a legal nationality is really just up to you, but I can definitely say that while there are ways that Indonesia feels like home, there are also ways it doesn’t.”

About the Sexual Abuse of Third Culture Kids, Resources and Way Too Many Links
Djibouti Jones
I was so pleased to see this list of resources that Rachel put together. It is so sad that a list like this is needed but, oh – is it needed! As I’ve mentored and interviewed TCKs over the past decade and more, I have heard so many stories of abuse – physical abuse, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, emotional abuse. Too often TCKs are extra vulnerable, because they’ve been told they must behave in order to protect their parent’s work and the family’s ability to stay in their host country. Or they may be linguistically, culturally, or geographically isolated from support and resources they might have access to otherwise. This is an excellent starting place – a lot of different resources to help different people in different situation. I was also humbled to see Misunderstood given a place on such an important list.
“I’m not saying mental illness and abuse necessarily go together, but that there is a lot of brokenness and grief that isn’t often addressed well in the world of expatriates. TCKs face this in unique ways, sometimes by nature of living in the home of their abuser at boarding school, sometimes leaving a country before resolution has been found, sometimes having no safe place or safe person to tell. There are so many goodbyes, so many losses, so many fears and insecurities. There is so much vulnerability and hunger for belonging.”

The Unspoken Swiss Trust
April J. Remfrey (LinkedIn)
A lovely little article illustrating a particular cultural difference: trust. How much do you trust strangers/fellow citizens to do the right thing? A small question, it might seem, but April illustrates beautifully how differently trust can operate in different cultural settings.
“After much thought, reflection, and dinner conversations, my husband and I have decided that trust is the most noticeable difference between our home country of the United States and Switzerland. One trusts that their neighbor is going to put their garbage in the correct shared receptacle. One trusts the people walking down the street to watch out for small children on the sidewalk.”

When to live inside your comfort zone
Stephanie Johnson Consulting
This post asks questions without offering much of an answer – and I love that! It’s an invitation to sit with the tension of “comfort zones” and whether to stick in them or run away from them. There is so much advice about leaving our comfort zones – and so much to learn by doing so. And yet comfort is not an enemy in and of itself. I often feel a guilt about the comforts I cling to – and I know I’m not the only expat to feel that! But over time I’m learning the balance I require. What about you – where do you find your own balance?
“After a year of dealing with a serious medical issue and a move to a new country, I find myself wanting to claw my way back to a comfort zone in order to re-establish a sense of equilibrium. Yes, I have changed. Yes, I have grown, but I’m ready for some sameness and consistency for a while, thank you very much. I’m not advocating for a life in which you constantly say within your comfort zone. This would be hypocritical of me to say the least. But we have to remember that change and challenge need to happen at the right time and in the right way, whenever possible. A life filled with constantly living outside your comfort zone would be chaotic, anxiety producing and disruptive. We have to make sure we don’t fall for the illusion that, by constantly challenging ourselves, we will reach a state of self-actualized bliss. We can make meaning of our lives now regardless of how exciting or mundane they are.”

What Does It Mean to Be a Canadian Citizen?
The Atlantic
This piece raises a big question: what does citizenship mean? In this post the context is voting rights, and whether those living outside their country of citizenship longterm (and not paying taxes) should maintain the right to vote. What one thinks about the specifics, and the author’s particular views, are less important to me than the fact that these questions are asked and pondered. It’s something I ask a lot of the ATCKs I’m interviewing: what does their citizenship mean to them?
“What does it mean to be a citizen? Is citizenship a kind of subscription service, to be suspended and resumed as our needs change? Are countries competing service providers, their terms and conditions subject to the ebbs and flows of consumer preference? Edmund Burke long ago articulated an ambitious vision of society as a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Does any of that still resonate? Or is it a bygone idea of a vanished age, dissolved in a globalized world?”

Mixed Up: ‘People try to guess my ethnicity – they always guess wrong’
Metro
I’m finishing this week with another post from Metro’s Mixed Up, a series looking at the highs, lows and unique experiences of being mixed-race.” There is a LOT in this post that reflects stories I’ve heard from TCKs of mixed heritage. A person with mixed heritage is another sort of Cross Cultural Kid, so there are definite overlaps worth exploring.
“For many mixed-race people their ethnic ambiguity can be the source of much scrutiny. It can become quite a burden having to spell out your heritage to people. And there is a difference between curiosity and ignorance. ‘I started to notice that pretty much every day I would have to be explaining to someone what my ethnicity was – or people would try to guess, and they would always guess wrong,’ Lara tells us. ‘The only people who ever really guess right are Asian people. But they normally assume I am Indian, they never ask if I am mixed. I get all sorts of guesses – Venezuelan, Turkish, Greek, Spanish – it annoys me. I know I do look quite ambiguous, but I don’t like the fact that there is no acknowledgement. Even the people who will say – “oh I just thought you were white” – it completely erases my real identity… In the context of race, privilege is a complex concept. It seems to be that the closer your proximity to whiteness, the more privilege you have. But when you’re mixed, where do you fit on that scale? ‘As a mixed-race person you never get your white privilege,’ argues Lara. ‘You’re always seen as “other”, so you might not identify with the non-white side of your family, but you can never be seen as white. You can never get the privileges that come with that.”