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.

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.

Cross cultural intersectionality

As I wrote in a previous post, I’m currently writing a series of articles looking at the intersection of different cross cultural childhood experiences.

One thing I did in Misunderstood was start to highlight the intersectionality of cross cultural childhoods – some of the ways in which different cross cultural experiences can overlap. One can be both a TCK and also an immigrant kid, for example. These experiences are similar, but distinct. To call a person who is both immigrant and TCK just a TCK is to erase (or at least overlook) key pieces of their particular cross cultural experience.

In this post I will be offering a quick look at the three intersections I specifically addressed in Misunderstood. I plan to write more about these, and other intersections, in the future. But this is a start.

TCK + Mixed cultural/ethnic heritage

I talked to a lot of TCKs who had parents from different cultures and/or different ethnicities. Multi-cultural and multi-ethnic families are two different experiences, although related ones. Often if a family is one it is also the other, but not necessarily. One TCK I interviewed had parents from Finland and the US – very different cultures, but both parents were caucasian. I also interviewed TCKs who had parents from different ethnicities but the same passport country. (Often there was a minority culture in play as well.)

The key difference is visibility. A child of mixed ethnic heritage may find they look “different” no matter where they are – that they are obviously, visibly “other” no matter where they are. As I wrote in Misunderstood:

“Biracial TCKs in particular spoke of feeling their outward appearance did not match how they felt inside. While this is a feeling many TCKs express, biracial TCKs carry their difference on the outsdie. One biracial TCK (with an African father and Asian mother) told me she felt she had to ‘prove’ herself to both sides of the family, that she stands out in every family gathering, no matter which side of the family she is with. There is an upside, however. Another biracial TCK told me he has come to like this ‘different’ appearance because it reflects the cross-cultural life has has lived as a TCK.”

Several TCKs I have spoken to said they appreciate their “ethnic ambiguity” – using it as a way to blend in as local in different contexts, or to give a reason for their difference that others will readily accept.

Those whose parents are of the same ethnic background but from different countries do not have the experience of visibility – they do not wear their mixed cultural heritage on their skin. Several told me stories of feeling hurt that their mixed heritage was overlooked, downplayed, or even ignored by others. On the other hand, others appreciate the lack of visibility, and the ability to choose how they want to present.

There are clearly additional complications of identity for this group of intersectional Cross Cultural Kids – but they have one big benefit other TCKs lack. Even when these TCKs did not have citizenship in more than one country, most had a sense of ownership in another country or culture. Their cross-cultural identity is generally more readily accepted by others than a TCK whose cultural and ethnic heritage was centred in their passport country.

TCK + Immigrant

In Misunderstood I coined the term Immigrant Expat to refer to families who experienced both immigration and subsequent expatriation. These families are connected to the parents’ original culture, the naturalised passport country, and the culture(s) they live in as expatriates.

In Misunderstood I looked specifically at Korean-American expats as an example of this type of intersectional cross-cultural experience, but I have talked with Immigrant Expat TCKs from a variety of backgrounds.

“My parents were born and raised in Korea and moved to the States after high school. They took what they thought were the best parenting methods from both their backgrounds (Korean and American), and employed them hand-in-hand., My siblings and I were raised to respect out elders, but to not be afraid to question their decisions where we saw fit. We celebrated both American Thanksgiving and traditional Korean New Year. We visited relatives both in Korea and in the States. And all this happened as we grew up in China.”

I also looked at what I called Returned Immigrant Expats – families who returned to the parents’ original country, but now with foreign citizenship. The group I used as my example for this section were Chinese immigrants who had returned to live in China (from various passport countries) though I also spoke to TCKs who had this particular experience in other countries.

“These families have an interesting dynamic. The parents may feel China is home, but they no longer completely belong as both they and the nation of China have changed. Their children, on the other and, usually feel completely foreign. The difference in their experiences can create conflict.”

In many cases, both types of Immigrant Expat TCKs found they had a stronger connection to the language and culture of their parents’ original country than cousins who were immigrants but not also expatriates. Living in international communities meant Immigrant Expat TCKs felt more at ease expressing a multi-faceted cross-cultural identity, and less pressure (or desire) to assimilate into the majority cultures of their passport countries. Instead, these CCKs often feel quite comfortable identifying with and expressing elements of all the cultures to which they feel connected.

TCK + Cross-Cultural Adoption

As I interviewed TCKs who were cross-culturally adopted for Misunderstood, some common questions and reactions became apparent. I started to look for these intersectional CCKs and ask them about their experiences. I was especially interested in the experiences of young people who lived as expatriates, foreign passport holders, in their birth countries. I included a list of comments made by many of these CCKs, which included wondering about people around them – the people they were genetically and historically connected to – and common experiences of looking local, while next to parents who did NOT look local.

I also wrote about three common reactions these TCKs had to their situation, while also noting that some TCKs experience a mixture of all threee at different times.

The first common response: avoiding or refusing to identify with their birth culture. This may involve refusing to learn or speak the language, lying about their heritage or history, or exhibiting extreme patriotic or nationalistic sentiment about their passport country/culture.

The second common response is the opposite – wholly identifying with their birth culture and distancing themselves from their passport country/culture. Again, this may include language, lying, and strong cultural preferences, this time in favour of the birth culture and against the passport culture.

Finally, the last common response is “to get stuck in questions of identity and belonging“. For these CCKs there is a deep insecurity related to their sense of identity and identification with the various cultures to which they are connected. They may fear being made to choose, or feel anxious about where they belong.

“These reactions are ways in which adopted TCKs process their situation and the conflicting emotions they may experience. As they work through these issues, they can come to integrate the different aspects of their cultural identity – allowing for celebration in place of conflict.”

Something I’m very excited about is that since the publication of Misunderstood more research into the intersection between TCKs and adoption is underway. To learn more, check out this interview with Lynn Kogelmann, mother to a cross-cultually adopted TCK and long time counsellor in international schools.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to cross cultural intersectionality. If you want to know more about these overlaps, pick up a copy of Misunderstood – paper or digital!

CCKs: Cross Cultural Kids

More and more, in both my speaking and writing work, I talk about Cross Cultural Kids more than (or at least in addition to) Third Culture Kids. A Cross Cultural Kid is anyone who has meaningful interaction with more than one culture before age 18. TCKs are a sub-category of CCK.

In the revised edition of the classic book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds is a discussion of the wider umbrella of cross-cultural experiences, and this helpful diagram:

cckmodel_thirdculturekids_pollock-vanreken-1.jpg

Ruth van Reken’s Cross-Cultural Kid (CCK) Model, from Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds (2017), p44

I use this diagram (with the gracious permission of its creator, Ruth van Reken) in almost every seminar I run. This concept is so important! It also explains a lot.

For example, a number of ATCKs wrote to me after reading Misunderstood (which includes an earlier version of this diagram) to say they finally understood why they were drawn to certain groups of people, as friends or through advocacy work – people such as immigrants, refugees, those of mixed ethnic or cultural heritage, and those of ethnic or religious minority groups living within a mainstream culture. Seeing this diagram and reading the brief discussion of the Cross Cultural Umbrella concept provided a light bulb moment for these ATCKs: what drew them to these people, as individuals or groups, was a sense of shared experience.

One ATCK who wrote to me works in refugee advocacy, and said she had always felt a deep sense of affinity for refugees, both those who became her friends as well as the group as a whole. She had always assumed it was compassion for those in a difficult situation, and found it inexplicable why others did not so readily empathise with their plight. As she read about the Cross Cultural Umbrella she finally understood. While she had never been a refugee, she did have a cross cultural childhood. She had experienced trying to learn a new way of living in a new country and language. She had experienced the conflict of feeling love and affinity for more than one place. There were many refugee experiences she did not share – but there were some she did. Her sense of affinity was deeply personal, drawing on her own childhood experiences.

Another ATCK talked about bonding with what seemed to be quite an eclectic group of friends at university – they were different ethnicities, studied different subjects, and came from different socio-economic backgrounds. After learning about the Cross Cultural Umbrella he recognised that every member of their group was a CCK. Suddenly their sense of affinity and mutual understanding made sense. They could relax with each other in way that was unusual in most environments in which they found themselves.

Several ATCKs have told me they feel more comfortable mixing with minority groups rather than within the mainstream cultures of the countries they live in. (ATCKs from several different passport countries have made this same remark.) The Cross Cultural Umbrella explains this affinity as well – those who grew up in a minority culture are also CCKs.

There are similarities between these different cross-cultural childhood experiences, hence the wider umbrella to group them together. Yet they are also distinct experiences. This means that it’s important to address intersectionality – what happens when a person falls into more than one of these categories. Many of the TCKs I interviewed for Misunderstood were intersectional CCKs, falling into more than one category. Some of the CCKs I am interviewing for my next book might not fit the technical description of a TCK and yet they are absolutely CCKs.

This intersectionality between different types of cross-cultural experiences is something I’m planning to address in a series of posts over the next few months. Hoepfully this short introduction to the Cross Cultural Umbrella has given you a little taste of some of the concepts and stories to come!

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.

 

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.

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!

Lessons from a Third Culture childhood, part 3: after “everyone leaves”

My first post in this series explored a “lesson” TCKs learn through growing up internationally: that everyone leaves. Next, I paused to address a very common response: “what about the internet?” The internet allows for relationships to be maintained long-distance, which is so very helpful! But it doesn’t actually solve the underlying problem.

Now in part three, I am finally (delayed due to a month of ill health) getting to the “solutions”. Only after we stop to really hear the sadness TCKs experience can we start talking about what happens after everyone leaves. With that foundation under us, I’m going to work through a few ideas that can be helpful for anyone dealing with the life lesson that “everyone leaves”. The bottom line is this: you can’t change the past, but you can choose what sort of future to build. Understanding what we think, and learning new ways of thinking, can make a huge difference in this regard.

Change, transition, and goodbyes

While the focus of this post is dealing with the aftermath – the life lesson encoded from a childhood full of goodbyes – it’s worth taking a moment to consider what to do in the thick of things. It’s important to understand the relationship between change and transition, and the impact transition has on our daily lives – whether we stay or go. Understanding this process, leaving space for it, and practicing self-compassion during it, goes a long way toward encouraging future healing and growth.

Saying good goodbyes is also really important. I’ll write a full post about this at some point, but as a summary thought – anything that matters (a person, animal, place, group) is worth saying goodbye to. Any relatiosnhip that will be changed, any routine that will be lost, is worth marking. There are lots of ways to do this (parties, gifts, memory books, photos, last visits, etc.) but it can also be an internal process. I can stop and recognise the importance of each person/place, expressing sadness and gratitude, any time – even after the fact, even years later, when a good goodbye was not said at the time. This is especially helpful when a family moves unexpectedly – for both the ones who leave, and the ones left behind.

Living “everyone leaves” long term

What I really want to focus on in this post is what to do later in life, when the lesson that “everyone leaves” has sunk in and affects the way I think and act. As I’ve listened to and mentored young adult TCKs in particular (especially as I start preparation for my next book) I’ve found a few tools that help us reframe our thoughts – and take control of the future. Taking time to consciously understand how these very valid past hurts impact our present-day reactions allows us to stop the past from stealing the future.

Saying goodbye sucks. Losing friends sucks. There’s no point sugar-coating that. The reality of change and loss can be painful, and it can’t be changed. The past is what it is. But staying in that place of pain, and the helplessness and hopelessness that often goes with it, doesn’t change the past. We must acknowledge the truth of our lives. But we don’t have to be ruled by it forever. We get to choose what happens next.

Sunk costs

In business there is a term for money you’ve already paid: a “sunk cost”. It is money you can’t get back. You’ve already paid the rent, bought the inventory, paid the salary – whatever it is, good decision or bad, it’s done. The question now has to be what is the best way forward, given that you can’t get the “sunk cost” back. This rule means that sometimes the best decision for a business is to sell old inventory at a loss – because that’s better that having it take up space in a warehouse. Let me use a mundane example to explain. Imagine you’re at a restaurant, and having eaten 3/4 of your meal you are feeling very full. Part of your brain is saying you should eat the rest because you’ve already paid for it! A “sunk cost” mentality says that you pay the same price for the meal no matter how much you eat, that the money is already spent. So, would you enjoy the meal more by stopping now, or by making yourself sick eating too much? Forget what you can’t change, and make the best decision starting from now. Perhaps you can take the small leftover portion home to be a snack later. But even if that’s not possible, eating it all in order not to leave waste may not be the best decision.

I’ve found sunk costs an extremely helpful concept in my personal life. Something has already happened in my life. I can’t change that. So what am I going to do about it? I don’t need to “fix” something that’s already happened. Blaming myself for a bad decision, or blaming someone else for causing me pain, doesn’t change the situation I find myself in. Instead, I can look ahead and decide what to do next.

When it comes to the “everyone leaves” lesson, we can’t change what has happened. We can only decide what is the best way forward, all things being as they are. Yes, I have experienced many goodbyes, and that hurt. But what sort of life do I want from now on? What choices will help me build that sort of future?

Change happens

Change is a part of life everywhere – you can’t insulate yourself against it, no matter what you do. You may decide you want to settle down in one place for the rest of your life, to minimise the potential for change and loss. But anywhere in the world, your best friend might choose to move away, perhaps without warning. No matter what you do, you can’t eliminate change. To be happy and healthy moving forward, therefore, you must find a way to cope with change.

Some people want to be the one who initiates change, so they are in control of it. They may move frequently, change jobs, or locations. One adult TCK told me that she had lived in the same town (with her husband and two kids) for six years, but in five different houses. Most of those moves happened simply because she wanted to move. She would find a better area, look for a better house. It took her years to realise she felt uncomfortable staying put for too long; when work kept them in one place, moving house helped soothe her itchy feet. Having recognised this, she wanted to try addressing the underlying feelings, but in the mean time she was pleased she had found a compromise that worked for her – that kept her living in the same city, not running away.

Another ATCK finds moving stressful, but still has a deep desire to see the world. So he and his wife travel frequently, but always come home to the same house.

I think the important part of this isn’t how I cope with change, but that I do cope with change. That I am able to face my feelings about change, and make conscious choices about how to respond to those feelings – not be controlled by fears I avoid. Each of us needs to acknowledge that change happens, and we can’t avoid that – but it doesn’t mean
we don’t have choices.

Pick your poison

Many TCKs I’ve talked with over the years have laid out the two choices they have: either go through the horrible pain of saying goodbye over and over, or don’t invest deeply in people to begin with. For many, avoiding deep relationships seems like the obvious and logical choice. The problem is that it’s not a choice between pain or no pain, it’s a choice between two different kinds of pain.

Yes, getting close to people only to have to say goodbye, over and over, is painful. But going through life without those close friendships, without people who know you, without anyone to share life with, is also painful.

So this is the real choice: either enjoy the beauty of friendship while you can, and pay the price in grief when someone moves away, or swap that sharp pain for the constant dull ache of feeling isolated and unknown. There is pain either way. But one path leads to relational connection – pain with gain. The other leads to isolation – a more lonely and sad kind of pain.

Faced with the reality of this choice, most of us instinctively understand the benefit of continuing to take the risk of investing in people.

And THIS is where the internet comes in

Maintaining friendships via the internet helps with a middle ground here. There is still the grief when a friend moves, or something happens and I’m not there in person. Tthere is still the ache of not sharing everyday life. And yet, an ongoing bond through different life circumstances (in different countries!) can be rich and rewarding. My own best friend and I have only spent two of our 13 years of friendship in the same country. We both travelled across oceans to be in each other’s weddings. We come from different passport countries but have each visited the other’s family home, met parents and siblings.

I’ve had to grieve the changes in our relationship many times. But each time, I knew it was worth continuing to invest in her, and in our friendship.

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.

You can’t change the past – but you can make choices about what happens next.