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 stories, both real and hypothetical (but rooted in 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 leaves 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 us 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 involved either way – so which would you prefer? To grieve changing friendships, 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

Recommended listening

I’m not quite ready to jump into Recommended Reading reviews just yet, but I was recently interviewed on a podcast which I’m going to recommend to you. So I also made a list of a few different podcasts I’ve appeared on in the past year or so as some recommended listening until I return to a regular schedule of Recommended Reading.

Migratory Patterns

I recently had a great conversation with Mike Shaw for the Migratory Patterns podcast. We talked about a lot of things, but particularly focusing on Third Culture life, both for kids and adults. I also explained a little about my current research, and why I’m preparing to write a book for twenty-something TCKs.

“Most of my interviews were with twenty-somethings and so I was really into these issues and aware of it and it was informing everything that went into Misunderstood. I was talking about their childhood experiences from that perspective of looking back on them… But what happens for a lot of those kids is they get to university and it’s like they walk off the cliff. There’s no support for what they go through, because their process of growing into adulthood looks really different. They’re juggling all these different cultural inputs, these different attachments, so their identity formation takes a lot longer. Not because they’re behind but just because they have a lot more information to process. The decision of how to work out what you want to do with your life is a lot harder when you have way more options. When your idea of what success is – you’re not even sure what you think, because the answer for you has always changed depending on who you’re talking to. When you now have to decide for yourself, when it’s not “my environment is determining for me”. Where I have to, as an adult, make my own independent decision. That’s a new skill.”

Click here to listen to my conversation with Mike

Mo Sibyl

Podcaster Mo Sibyl is a Nigerian academic in the US with an interest in Korean culture – among other things! I really enjoyed talking with her – we turned out to have many shared interests, including a love of language and statistics! At one point she said: “This is now a conversation between two language nerds!

What I appreciated most was how she got me talking about my work. She asked different questions from interesting angles, eliciting interesting responses from me in return. Even if you know me well, have talked to me about what I do, there’s probably something new in this. Here’s a few excerpts:

A lot of what I do is translating the TCK experience… Articulating things that they aren’t able to… Because of what they’ve been through, this is how they see the world, and here are some ways we can support them and understand them better. . .Over ten years I developed a set of tools that work. So now what I’m doing is sharing with parents and teachers the tools I developed on the ground.”

Click here to listen to my conversation with Mo

Go Ye There

The first podcast I was invited to speak on happened while I was still in Australia completing my studies. It is a podcast by/for missionaries, but our conversation is a great primer for anyone raising kids overseas. We go through the basics of the TCK experience – what “TCK” means, what the Third Culture is, how growing up overseas shapes a child’s worldview, and more.

“All expats live in the Third Culture, but adults and children experience it very differently. Adults are viewing their international experience through the worldview shaped by their own childhood. Whereas a a TCK’s worldview is shaped by an international childhood. And this determines how they view the rest of the world, including their home country. When you grow up with more than one culture as a child, it affects the way you understand life, and the world, and yourself… Your kids might not be “struggling” as such, but they’re absolutely affected, because childhood experiences shape who we are.”

Click here to listen to my interview on the TCK basics

TCK Summit

I recorded a ten minute talk for The Change School‘s TCK Summit shortly after Misunderstood was first released. The TCK Summit is a series of short talks hosted on youtube discussing different aspects of cross-cultural life, especially as it affects TCKs. The month I contributed to was themed “Cultivating the Mind”. Two areas The Change School focuses on are “developing a Global Mindset” and lifelong learning, so my talk included what this looked liked for me.

The core of my talk was about connection to multiple cultures, and why this requires cultivation of mind. There is stress attached to navigating differing cultural expectations, which can dim mental clarity. This is something that came out in a number of my interviews for Misunderstood – TCKs faced with the need to make a decision about the future often experienced anxiety they needed tools to work through.

“The influence of multiple cultures can be quite stressful at times. If you are influenced by two cultural systems that means double the information to take in, double the social rules to learn, double the means of communication to master, double the values to internalise… Knowing yourself deeply, consciously processing emotion, acknowledging difficulties, creating mental space – these are all strategies that make it easier for each of us to grow through our engagement with multiple cultures rather than become overwhelmed by all the noise.”

Watch my TCK Summit talk on youtube

That’s it for today! I hope to be back with some Recommended Reading catch up next week.

Some initial results from my survey of ATCKs – and how you can help!

I’ve written before about my new project for twenty-something TCKs, and the survey I launched as a starting place for looking into issues that affect them.

I had to put my research on hold for a few months due to illness BUT the good news is that means I’m still looking for more ATCKs to complete my initial survey! If you lived overseas as a child and are now an adult (especially if you are between 30-50 years old!) I would LOVE to have your input. Please do share this around with anyone you know who might be interested.

Click here to go to the survey

300 ATCKs have completed the survey, and over 100 have indicated a willingness to be interviewed. So far there are 55 different passport countries and 134 countries of residence represented. All of this is really exciting!!

Are all your countries represented? I’ve included the full list of countries below – take a look and see!

I’m also going to share with you a few inital results from the survey – the story so far. The survey is still open and so these results may shift, especially if the demographics of participants evens out. Currently there are more females than males, more under 30s than over 30s, and more missionary kids than other demographics. So, with the understanding that these are very provisional results, here are a few statistics from the survey so far:

  • 46% lived 10 or more years of childhood outside their legal culture/s.
  • 20% lived in four or more countries before age 18.
  • 32% currently hold legal status (passport or permanent residency) in two or more countries.
  • 43% have given up legal status (passport or permanent residency) they previously held.

A lot of this survey asks which issues are/were a struggle, to help me understand what issues and information will be most helpful to discuss in a book for twenty-somethings. Here are a few of the issues that many ATCKs are responding to:

  • 80% have struggled with maintaining friendships long-distance.
  • 73% have struggled to find a sense of belonging in their passport countries.
  • 72% have struggled with putting down roots.
  • 70% have struggled with a fear of connecting and then leaving/being left.
  • 69% have struggled with making a place “home”.

I also asked questions about mental health and support services. This is something I get a LOT of questions about, and I want to make sure the new book has solid and helpful information. This is a simple survey based on self-reporting, but the statistics on how mental health issues have affected ATCKs are still worth paying attention to:

  • 78% report being affected by unresolved grief.
  • 76% report being affected by anxiety.
  • 70% report being affected by depression.
  • 26% report being affected by self-harm.
  • 14% report being affected by substance abuse.
  • 36% have never received any type of mental health support.

Finally, here is the long list of countries represented by the 300 people who have completed the survey so far! Are all yours here?

55 Legal Cultures
These are the countries survey participants have/had a passport from or legal permanent residency in.
Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Côte D’Ivoire, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Senegal, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.

134 Geographic Cultures
These are the countries survey participants have lived in. 123 of these were childhood homes! (This list includes 10 territories*; I include them as they are geographically/culturally very different to their governing nations.)
Afghanistan, Akrotiri and Dhekelia*, Albania, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Aruba*, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cayman Islands*, Central African Republic, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo (Rep), Congo (DRC), Costa Rica, Côte D’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Hong Kong*, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao*, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norfolk Island*, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Pitcairn Islands*, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico*, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, South ‎Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, Virgin Islands*, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Update: to learn more information from my research as I continue working, please consider supporting me on Patreon. $2 a month gives you access to extra insights arising through the research process.

Easing into the new year

As I wrote in my previous post, over the past month (nearly two) I’ve taken a break from working on my various projects. Now it’s January and I’m beginning to ease into the new year. I am taking my huge to-do list and breaking it down into manageable pieces. I’m trying to prioritise which projects need to be completed now, which could slowly use a little attention, and which can wait. I’m trying to balance passion and practicality – while keeping a firm hold on my health.

One decision I’ve made is that while I want to get back to posting regularly, I will not try to write new blog posts every week in January.  Instead, I am going to highlight some previous posts that have been popular. I will share some of the comments I’ve received from readers.

I also plan to start sharing the backload of Recommended Reading, but to begin with I may end up with simpler comments rather than full summaries and reflections. I need to start somewhere, and I’m trying to start small.

After that, however, I want to get writing again! And I’d love to know what you’d like to see me writing about. Do you have any questions about TCKs, the Third Culture, expatriate life, what it means to grow up cross-culturally, or anything else? Send me your questions! I may not have all the answers, but that will just give me more to learn so I can share it with you.

What would you like to learn about?

What would you like to share?

What do you want to know?

What do you wish others knew about your experience?

My inspiration for writing has always come from people. Sometimes it comes from listening to struggles – parents who feel guilty or discouraged, TCKs who feel confused or misunderstood, expatriates who feel alone and disconnected. Sometimes it comes from listening to joys – celebrating lives of cross-cultural confusion and joy, finding your own way through international life, or fondly reminscing over a time and place and community that may no longer exist outside memory.

Whatever is on your mind, I would love to hear from you.

I look forward to hearing your stories, as I always have!

Sorry-not-sorry: taking a guilt-free break

I started to write a post apologising for my silence lately, my lack of online presence, the lists of great expat and TCK related posts I haven’t got around to sharing, or even more than skim read. Then I realised I don’t need to apologise – hence the sorry-not-sorry title for this post.

I don’t need to apologise because I haven’t done anything wrong. I have actually done something right! It’s something I need to learn to do better – and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I took a break.

I’ve previously mentioned the health difficulties I’ve faced over the past two months. A chest infection triggered severe acute asthma that eventually landed me in emergency in the middle of the night. I’ve seen five or more doctors in two countries. I’ve been prescribed over a dozen medications (I can’t be bothered to count them all!!) The bottom line is that I’ve spent a lot of time really exhausted. I haven’t had the energy to physically look after myself appropriately let alone focus my mind on work. It’s been very challenging, very frustrating, and progress has felt FAR too slow for my liking.

I was just starting to feel well when I went on a trip to Australia. I did a lot of things but the main reason to go was to meet my two new nephews, as well as see my toddler niece again! I felt fine at first but started to struggle again resulting in more steroids. I also brought a case of gastro back to Beijing with me (a gift from my nephew) but at least I’m now feeling more on top of the asthma, really for the first time.

Through most of this time I was working to keep this blog updated, respond to emails, prepare the next stage of work for my next book, write articles requested of me by various publications. But I wasn’t managing it, couldn’t stay on top of it – I was falling short on every metric. I couldn’t take care of my basic needs, and yet I still feltIMG_20181122_093918_297.jpg the pressure to keep up with external activities.

After landing in hospital a week before my Australia trip, I finally decided to stop. No work until January. I wrote to a few people who were waiting on me, explaining the situation. I let go of a bunch of projects I felt an urgency to be working on. I let a lot of things lapse. And I didn’t feel guilty about it.

That’s the hard part for me. Not identifying that I need rest, or what I need to let go of, and even more than actually taking a break – taking a true mental break. Not even THINKING or worrying about the things I think I should be doing, and not feeling guilty for taking a break that was much needed. I know I’m not the only one. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Perhaps it’s a false belief that my worth lies in what I can DO for others. If I’m not doing something useful, who am I?

Perhaps it comes from caring – and a false belief that worry shows care. If I’m not doing something, and I’m not worrying about that, do I really care?

Perhaps it comes from insecurity about the value of my work. If I’m not taking every opportunity, pursuing every connection, squeezing out every drop of effort, will I ever get anywhere?

Perhaps it comes from using busyness to crowd out the needs of my heart. If I can’t hear my feelings, I don’t have to deal with my hurts.

It’s probably all of the above, for me. Perhaps some or all of these are true for you, too?

What I do know is that stepping away from a lot of things in order to focus on my health and my family was the best decision – even if it feels irresponsible or lazy, or any other accusation I throw at myself!

As I’ve talked with thousands of TCKs over the years, many have expressed a sense of pressure to excel, fear of failure, and a compulsion to keep moving – whether physically moving to a new location, emotionally never stopping to feel, or non-stop perfectionist working. And especially as I think through my new project (a book for twenty-something TCKs) I suspect that this season of struggle is particularly important. I have been forced to rest, and forced to face the reasons I resist rest. Perhaps the lessons I’m learning now, in doing “nothing”, will benefit others down the track.

I’ll close this odd little post with good wishes to all of you – that you will take your own guilt-free breaks, long and short, wherever you can find (and make!) them.