Recommended reading: June 3rd, TCK perspective

Time for some more writing by TCKs – long posts and short, with TCKs reflecting on their experiences and telling their stories. I know it’s only been a month since the last TCK Perspective I shared, but I’ve found so many great pieces lately I didn’t want to wait!

Identity & Belonging – TCK Art Gallery
Noggy Bloggy
Aneurin has another fantastic online TCK art gallery, this one themed “Identity and Belonging”. This post features Tina Quick, author of the fantastic book A Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition, choosing a few favourite pieces from the gallery to highlight.
“As an ATCK and the mother of three TCKs this piece impacted me because as the artist says, “The pieces we collect are often attached to a place that speaks loud to our identity.” What may seem insignificant to others has intense value to us. That is why I always tell parents never to throw away their TCK’s belongings without asking first. One day they will be ready to let go as that identity evolves.”

The freedom of being a third culture kid
Honi Soit
I love this piece! ATCK Georgia describes her relationship with her mixed cultural heritage and upbringing, and how embracing a TCK identity helped her make peace with all trhe pieces.
“…my cultural heritage tends to disorient most people that I meet. That invariably leads to false conceptions of my identity founded on comfortable and familiar stereotypes. TCKs are prevented from easily giving voice to their origin stories, and are severed from the roots of a precise nationality, a home. Wherever I go, I have often felt and been treated as an outsider. Comments on my accent have in the past sent me spiralling into a state of unease and insecurity with my identity. . .The decision to identify as a TCK actually occurred after moving to Australia. I realised that the non-judgemental, unassuming acceptance I had received within the expat community I grew up in was something truly unique. Elsewhere, it seems that people quickly categorise a new face as either ‘one of us’ or ‘one of them’, local or foreigner. . .To live authentically, for me, has meant accepting my roots as a TCK. While my younger self felt constantly torn between differing cultures, having the freedom to pick and choose from my own mixed bag of traditions has been the most rewarding experience.”

“Where Are You From?”
A Life Overseas
This piece is a missionary kid’s reflections on the question all TCKs struggle with. She wrestles with the difficulty – feeling judged and resentful, struggling to reconcile experiences, the memories of life in one place that she DOESN’T have. She concludes with the way she’s found peace in the midst of this – the Christian theology of citizenship in heaven. I did a research thesis on this citizenship in heaven and its impact on Christian TCKs, so it was nice to see my topic reflected here.
““Where are you from?” The dreaded question is asked all too often as soon as I open my mouth and my Australian-British-South African accent comes out. A question that seems simple yet holds the weight of my being, it is the question of my identity. It is not simply the answer to that question alone which can be a difficult and strange one to have when someone actually doesn’t care about my history — but rather the judgments that are made upon the story that ensues.”

4 Things Missionary Kids Won’t Tell You
ABWE
This is another piece by a teeange missionary kid, and it’s really important. I’ve heard these same sentiments from many, many young TCKs over the years. The first two points are applicable to lots of TCKs from different sectors, and the second two points are specific to mission/ministry families. All four points are really important reading for parents.
“We may talk differently because of where we grew up. We may not understand American sports. We may eat our burgers with forks and knives. But we are still kids who want to belong. Our fear of never fitting in may seem irrational, but continually pointing out our differences only feeds this fear. But, our parents, supporters, friends, and pastors have the power to make us feel welcome, by accepting us no matter how different we may seem.”

A TCK’s Reflection; Brene Brown’s Call to Courage
We All See this World a Little Differently
This post has some personal and really helpful reflections on vulnerability, grief, and relationship building. These are themes that are coming up a lot in my current research, and I appreciated the way Joel approached these often difficult topics. His authenticity is refreshing and his insights widely applicable.
“I absolutely loved my life growing up overseas, but there is an element of constant change that all TCKs have in their lives that I could have lived without. Either you (the TCK) or someone you know is always moving. I had very few friends that remained in my life from kindergarten through high school. The expectation in an ex-pat community is that people will only be around for a couple of years before moving onto another assignment from their business or mission board. Only a handful of people will be around long term. The grief and loss that is experienced when the element of belonging is removed is deep.”

‘I’m either too black or not black enough’: One teenager’s experience
BBC News
This powerful piece was written by a teenager studying at an international school in Europe. She unpacks her experience of being an African American in a school where her culture is largely unknown, where she sees appreciation and appropriation of its surface characteristics, but no knowledge of the history and lived experience behind those cultural markers.
“Technically, all people of African descent are minorities in America, the place where I’ve lived most of my life. Yet, this is the first time I’ve been aware of it. There are so few black students at my school that by next year, there’s a good chance that no one in secondary will have black skin. Should that not be scary? Is it weird for me that it is? It’s not that I’m scared to be the only black person at the school; that’s not really the issue. It’s that there’s part of black culture that has spread throughout the student population that reeks of ignorance. . .I am either too black or not black enough; yet no matter what, I am in the wrong. The stares weigh over me like a thick smog, the whispers cloud my hearing, and on this campus I am left an outcast. Isolated. Alone”

Thoughts on Remembering
Third Culture Thoughts
In this piece a TCK explores nostalgia – the pain of leaving and losing friends, and the place of memory. There’s a good balance here – recognising the need to reflect and feel, but not to let that hold you back.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to move countries or cities multiple times in my life, and while it’s an opportunity every time to reinvent yourself for the new environment you’ll be in, you also leave a lot behind. Even if you didn’t like that person you were or that place you lived in, it’s a part of how you became you today. Others may not think that’s important but I do. I suppose it’s a little existential of me. We only have the time we have here and now in our lives. Each of us is one in billions of other human beings, and we are on a rock floating in a stupendously large universe. Our lives are, in a cosmic sense, infinitesimally small, but they are our lives and that makes them important to us. It makes them worth remembering because no one else will.”

Who am I really? Ask the Third Country Kids
Shine
This interview with a Third Culture Kid includes some great gems relating to identity struggles and language usage:
“The hardest part of my life was having to go back to the country that I thought was my home and realizing that I was not from there. That I was not from Indonesia, I did not look Indonesian. That I was not from Kenya, I did not look Kenyan. But I was also not French. . .When I am really angry, I shout in French. It is the most delicious language to get angry in. When I talk to a baby or a puppy, I go to Dutch. Because my mum is Dutch, and I guess it’s my motherly side that comes out. When I want to theorize about complex things, I want to do that in English only because I studied in English. So, languages are part of my personality and they mix and match.”

Past the Point of Resilience
TCK Town
A TCK shares a powerful personal story about when change becomes too much – and what coping looks like.
“As a TCK I am used to moving constantly, I am used to change, and I am used to jumping into a culture and embracing all its quirky characteristics until I grow to love them. I took pride in my ability to say goodbye easily and move with an optimistic attitude about each place we went to. I was the first in my family to pack my suitcase and be ready to go, the first to explore and meet new friends and the first to try new food. I thrived off of change. I never thought that this change I loved so much would betray me. . .On top of my family falling apart and the suddenness of having to come back to a place I didn’t want to be, I was dealing with culture shock. Instead of being resilient and embracing the simultaneously familiar yet unfamiliar world around me, I rejected it. I didn’t want to be part of this way of life and I didn’t want to be from here. I missed everything about our life overseas.”

The Clouds
TCK Town
And finally, in what seems to have become an unintentional tradition in these TCK Perspective posts, a poem. (This one is also from TCK Town.) Here’s my favourite stanza:
“Between worlds, clutching neither time nor needs.
Clammy hands grasp old baggage. Last to stand.
Blonde curls, pockets full of sunflower seeds.
Turbulent past brings nostalgic disband.”

Feature in Beijing Kids magazine

I’ve spent most of the last month on the road, but I’m finally back home for the forseeable future! It’s very nice to be sleeping in my own bed, cooking in my own kitchen, and hanging out on my own couch (with my own husband!)

In the three nights I’ve been home, I’ve slept 8-9 hours a night instead of my usual 6-7 hours. I think my body is telling me something! So I’m taking it a bit easy, despite the pile of work clamouring for my attention. Sometimes self-care is housework, grocery shopping, and cooking meals.

Today’s self care means that instead of devoting time and energy to finish one of the many half-written blog posts waiting in my drafts folder, I’m going to point to something else – the May 2019 edition of the Beijing Kids magazine. I’m featured in it twice! The whole edition is full of great stories and advice for raising TCKs, not just in Beijing.

First up is an interview of me, a two-page spread as a Parenting Feature on pages 45-46. The article was written by the lovely Pamela Djima, and is called “Parenting Third Culture Kids: Who are they, and how can you help yours?”

Pamela and I spoke by phone when she interviewed me. We had a lovely conversation and I was impressed at how she skillfully boiled down the wide range of topics we discussed into an accessible piece of writing that covers a lot of ground.

“I was struck by how many parents feel guilty and are afraid that they are doing the wrong thing to their kids. My advice to parents is: Make the best choices you can with the information you have. If home is a safe space and you love your kids, that in itself will be a tremendous help.”

bjkidsmay19_45-46sm

Second, I am also quoted in a piece called: “Raising Third Culture Kids: Where is home?” (pages 51-53). The author of this piece, Siana Braganza, interviewed me with a special focus on the topic of belonging for TCKs. She starts her piece with my definition of a Third Culture Kid, and thoughts on home and belonging. She then shares the stories of an expat mum raising TCKs, and an adult TCK. The ATCK is actually someone I’ve connected with online – Mia Livingston – so that was a lovely overlap!

“Home is a concept that combines many things: nostalgia, childhood experiences, familiarity, comfort, security, family relationships, and more. I don’t think it’s essential to have a single place to call ome, or a strictly geographical sense of belonging. But, I do think that on an emotional level we all need some sense of home and belonging, even if the pieces aren’t all found in the one place or community.”

bjkidsmay19_51sm.jpg

You can read the magazine online, or if you’re in Beijing, grab a paper copy! I’ll have to try to find one myself, too…

Dear repatriating TCK

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


Dear repatriating TCK,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tanya

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

My own international tattoo story

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

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

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

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

tcktat-me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TCKs and their tattoos

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

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

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

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

Connection to places

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

A tattoo representing a place a TCK feels a strong connection to gives them a TANGIBLE connection. A permanent mark. The place that is invisibly etched on their heart is now visibly etched on their skin. This can be an incredibly comforting thing.

Examples of place tattoos I’ve come across include:

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

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

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

Connection to languages

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

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

A tattoo in a language that is meaningful to a TCK gives them a permanent, tangible connection to that language – even if the place is far away, or their language abilities fade.

Examples of langauge tattoos I’ve come across include:

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

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

tcktat3

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

Connection to values

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

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

Examples of values tattoos I’ve come across include:

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

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

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

Click here to read the story of my own international tattoo

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.

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

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.