Cross-cultural education: advice for parents

In a previous post I wrote an overview of the cross-cultural education experience, and said there would be more posts to come. In the meantime, I wrote a post for China Source about the impact of school culture, and the cross-cultural experience this can be. I’ve received a lot of feedback from teachers, parents and educational consultants. It’s nice to hear that so many others also feel this is a significant and important topic, although it also reminds me how few families are well resourced in how to cope with the impact of school culture on their family.

This post covers some key advice I give to parents about coping with the stresses associated with cross-cultural education. It’s turned into a long post, but I still feel like I’m barely scratching the surface! At any rate, I hope you will find these suggestions thought-provoking, encouraging, and interesting.

ccfamtalk

1) Your child is learning two cultures and languages at once

Your child may seem a bit behind in some ways: lacking language skills or cultural awareness, on either side – or both! But keep in mind, this is because they are learning more than one language, more than one cultural system. They’re actually ahead! The places they lack something are reminders of all they’ve gained, in a different language or cultural system.

Related to this, as they grow, keep in mind that they are neither completely one nor completely the other. Remember that it’s both-and: they have two (or more) languages and cultures that they draw upon to develop their sense of self.

“I feel like a different person when speaking Finnish than when speaking English. Maybe because my Finnish is not sophisticated enough to allow me to express myself to the same level as I can in English. I feel frustrated when I’m away with friends, say for a week, and don’t get any chances to speak Finnish. Even though I am limited by my Finnish, I feel constricted when I don’t get to be my ‘Finnish self’.”

Elisa, age 19, as quoted in Misunderstood, page 265

2) Always assume the best about your child

When you and your child clash, and especially when you feel your child is disrespecting you, or your culture, try to assume the best about your child. Assume that their intentions toward you are good. Assume they are trying their best. Assume that there is a misunderstanding between you, and not ill-intent. From this assumption, try to ask questions – perhaps just to yourself about the situation, or sometimes you may actually want to ask your child.

Ask why the child is acting this way (after starting by assuming the child is not trying to be difficult), and in particular, if they are acting from a set of values they have learned at school. Would their behaviour make sense in the classroom or schoolyard setting? Are they working from connection to and affection for more than one country, culture, or language?

Ask what might be confusing or frustrating your child – is there language or cultural understanding they are missing, and need help with? Are your own expectations as a parent not clear? Might these be confusing for a child living with different expectations during the school day? Ask what extra information, support, love, attention, or skills you might be able to provide to your child, to help them relax and grow as they walk through two cultures and languages at once.

Also, keep in mind the impact of grief on TCKs, and whether this might be part of the equation.

3) You may need space to deal with your own grief

Speaking of grief, give yourself space as a parent to experience and express grief associated with what a cross-cultural education means your child does NOT have – and does not share with you.

You may need space to feel the weight of what you’re dealing with. That you as a family are navigating two cultures and languages. That this journey means your child is having a very different childhood than you did – and therefore, is becoming a very different person. Over time, you may see these differences leading your child down a different path, and you may feel upset about them being less like you. And sometimes, those gaps in your experiences may make you feel sad – as you see the things you don’t share with your child. It is okay – even healthy – to leave yourself space to feel those feelings.

Letting yourself feel that sadness, finding a safe space to express it, will help you not put this on your child. If you do not recognise and face any grief you experience, it will twist its way into your parenting unconsciously. You will be more likely to place heavy expectations on your child to conform to your own cultural norms. You will be more likely to require them to be like you in order to feel accepted by you.

4) Cross-cultural education was YOUR choice – not your child’s

This is a difficult lesson for some, but it is very important. Your child did not choose to be in this situation, and to have this cross-cultural educational experience. This happened due to your choices as a parent. Even when children are involved in decisions around family relocations and schooling choices, the buck stops with the parent.

Whether you are at the start of this journey, or years down the track, it’s important to keep in mind that this is the only experience your child has. They have nothing to compare it to. They may not know what makes them different. They may not know what they don’t know. When those differences and lacks become apparent to you, remember: you are the one who chose this.

This also means it’s unfair to place heavy expectations on your child to be like you, and to share your sense of home. You may not even realise you’re doing it – especially if you haven’t made space to explore your own grief – but your child will, and it can place huge barriers in your relationship.

“My family would take me to Syria every summer, but I never truly immersed myself in the Syrian culture. I never made real friends, I couldn’t speak the language…I feel a continuous frustration with my parents for their feeling of entitlement to their children’s sense of home. They just didn’t get that there would be a permanent gap between their perspective of Syria and mine. And that separation would never be closed.”

Dialla, 18, as quoted in Misunderstood, page 262-263

This is a really emotional topic for a lot of parents. When I talk about these things in seminars, I almost always look out to see tears. Often there is relief, that they aren’t the only one, or that they have an explanation for something, or that their child is “normal”. Sometimes it’s sadness, at finally understanding some of the dynamics in their relationship with their child, and wishing they could have done things differently earlier. Sometimes it’s gratitude, at finally knowing what to do, or feeling validated that they had made some good parenting choices already.

 

If you are feeling emotional after reading this, please give yourself a little time and space to sit with those feelings, whether now or later. You might like to comment on this post, ask a question or share a story. You might want to send it to a friend so you can discuss it together. Perhaps sitting down with a journal, or writing your own blog post in response, is more your speed. Reflection is an important tool, and one worth making time for, especially if this has struck a chord with you.

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.”

Recommended reading: May 27th, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! Here’s a range of interesting posts related to international life from the past month.

Parenting Third Culture Kids: Who are TCKs and how can you help yours?
Beijing Kids
First up is a little plug! I was recently featured (twice!) in the Beijing Kids magazine. Now those articles are available online. Here’s a taste of an interview with me:
“Something that is extremely helpful for TCKs is creating a safe space where kids can express different aspects of culture and not have to self-censor. Having a space where they can just be whatever mix they are. When parents are able to do this at home they get to know their real kids, not an act their kids put on based on their parent’s cultural expectations. . .It’s refreshing for children to know that home is a place where they can go and relax; where they don’t have to worry about fitting in or making a mistake or pronouncing words correctly.”

Raising Third Culture Kids: Where Is Home?
Beijing Kids
And here’s the second article, which quotes me before interviewing sharing two interviews (an ATCK and a parent of TCKs). There are some really great stories and insights in them!
“It was sometimes hard for my children to fit into new schools and countries after a move, especially in non-international environments. This was always painful for me to watch, and I always told them to “take care of the newcomers” wherever they went as a way to empathize with and cope with these painful experiences. Another challenge for me was being okay with the fact that even though it is easy for them to fit in and live anywhere in the world, they remain foreigners in their (my) “home country” of France. I think this bothers me more than it does them.”
“It was always heartbreaking to leave countries where I had close friends. This isn’t always avoidable of course, but it helps if parents plan bigger chunks of time in places, staying long enough in one place so that their child can finish high school or middle school, and ensuring that the academic continuity stays the same between schools where possible. As a child, I was also attached to my toys and keepsakes; these were among the few constants in my life. I felt that my parents didn’t always respect that and left many things behind. This was traumatizing for me. Parents should try to be patient with and listen to their child telling them what’s important in their world, and then they can work together to see how memories and feelings can be honored better.”

A Little Advice to My Pre-Expat Self
Taking Route
Somehow I missed this post in April, but it’s too good to miss sharing with you now! It includes five pieces of advice the author, reflecting back, would give herself as a new expat. There is so much wisdom in these five points I’m not sure how to choose only a little to share – so instead, here’s her conclusion, and my strong advice to go read the whole thing!
“I can’t go back in time and give this advice to my pre-expat self, but I can learn these lessons well and continue to use them as I move forward in my expat journey. I hear expat life can be circular. Life overseas is periods of grief and loss, excitement to mundane, over and over and over. So as I look to the future, I am thankful for the lessons and the process as I move forward.”

Embracing Failure to Create Change
Dr Anisha Abraham
Anisha reflects on a powerful keynote address from Caleb Meakins at the recent FIGT 2019 conference in Bangkok. I had a great chat with Caleb after his keynote, and we talked about the importance of TCKs experiencing failure as they grow and develop. Anisha’s reflections are interesting, and at the end she links to an older post on letting teens fail which is also worth a read.
“Caleb takes the fear out of starting something new by asking us what we would do if we could try something and it was… impossible to fail? The answer to this question may be our life dream or passion. Caleb’s point is that if we would do it if we couldn’t fail, why not try it even if we may fail or it didn’t quite work out?. . .Caleb’s story makes a good case for why parents need to stop protecting kids from failure. Instead, we need to allow young people to take risks and try new pathways in the spirit of making the world a better place.”

I’ll be your friend if you let me.
A Life Overseas
I really, really appreciate this short post. It acknowledges a hard truth of expat life: when you say goodbye to so many people, it gets difficult to keep your heart tender toward newcomers. When you know investing in a deeper relationship means investing in a more painful goodbye, it’s easier to protect your deeper self behind a wall. This logic is something many TCKs grow up with. And in this one short post, Anisha illustrates the power of offering your friendship to another person. And in sharing her attitude of openness, she invites (challenges) all of us to do the same.
“The years roll by. We say painful goodbye after painful goodbye. The wall sometimes seems like an inviting place. I understand now the emotional safety others have sought behind it. But the wall is not for me. I’ll be your friend if you let me.”

5 lessons from 3 months abroad
Marloes Huijsmans (LinkedIn)
This is a short piece reflecting on what has helped one person in a period of international transition. And yet, these simple pieces of advice are gold!! A beautiful summary of a lot of the advice I follow for myself and offer others. I particularly love the description of learning to value the social part of social media – and shout outs to some great people in the expat connection field!
“There is a whole online community that is ready to guide you that I did not have any clue of. I have to admit…I am a very late adapter, thinking facebook was just to get likes to make you feel better and Instagram a way to show off. Boy, was I wrong! With special thanx to Emily Rogers (expat parenting abroad) Amel Derragui (tandem nomads) and Sundae Schneider-Bean (expats on purpose) who introduced me to the right persons, provided me with tips, very interesting podcasts and free guidebooks to start the business.”

My Trailing Spouse Resumé
Tales from a Small Planet
I love this fun and lighthearted take on the skills acquired through multiple international moves! I actually think it’s a great exercise for expats in general to think through – what are the skills (both serious and silly) that you’ve acquired over the years, and moves? As Kelly notes at the end, “Of course, I have another resumé that I’m preparing for employers. But I like this one better!”
“After 29 years experience as a expatriate spouse, 17 of them overseas, I bring a unique perspective to any crazy venture. With 10 international moves under my belt to date, my vocabulary of profanity is impressive, while my organizational skills have been refined to the level of obsession. I am particularly fond of making lists on napkins and sticking post-it notes to household items, pets, and children. Unfazed by incomprehensible languages, Euroglyphic appliances, and funky plumbing, I make a house into a home wherever I land.”

When the robots come, the robots will be racist
gal-dem
Finally, here’s something slightly off topic, but an important point worthy of consideration. The author discusses implicit bias and ways it is being translated to AI systems. She then considers ways these biases could impact people through the adoption of AI in various contexts.
“I’m not sure what the equivalent of unconscious bias training is for a computer system but it might look something like the ‘What-If’ tool Google released to identify the exact moment that bias kicks in during machine-based decision making. I can’t help but think identifying when biases occur misses the point. It feels ironic that we’re now faced with a need to build de-biasing technology into our machines when what we should be focussing on is eliminating the homogeneity that allowed for this to arise in the first place. Call me paranoid, but I also believe we should be developing tools that mitigate the potential for harm that inevitably goes hand-in-hand with the existence of technology that can be used as an automated profiling service. Talking about the lack of diversity in tech has seemingly become mainstream but not enough is being done to stop our machines from perpetuating cycles of disadvantage and discrimination in the meantime.”

Recommended reading: May 20th, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! I feel like I say this most weeks, but I have a lot of really great posts for you this week! And a variety of perspectives – diplomat, missionary, military, education. There’s a piece on introducing yourself, and a piece on signing emails! I hope you enjoy this wealth of content as much as I have.

The Lonely Diplomat: on home
The Lonely Diplomat
A lovely post musing on home and belonging, from the perspective of an Australian diplomat family. Part of life for many diplomat families is frequent transition – starting a new life knowing that they have a limited time there before they will move on again. This post beautifully captures the tension of this life. This is a really good read, a balance of emotion and intellect, and holding the tension of a situation that is both good and hard. There’s also great questions for personal reflection and some practical advice.
“A question: how is it that we can both feel at home and be strangers when away on a posting, but once we’re home we can feel like we miss our home? Simpler yet: how is it that we can feel at home both everywhere and nowhere at the same time? Confused? Me too. But that’s the point. . .Each move means uprooting ourselves and our families and settling into another new community and working out where and how we belong all over again. This is both exhilarating and destabilising. It’s both an amazing voyage of discovery and potentially very traumatic. . .We all acknowledge that, for everyone, it’s hard at times. It’s allowed to be hard. It’s a peculiar feeling to be home and feel homesick for home. It’s more peculiar yet to feel and know that home is a place we can only be temporarily.”

There’s No Place Like Home
Downsview Counselling
A great summary of some of the negative impacts that can result from a TCK childhood – and the pressure to hide these. The author’s experience and perspective – that the experience overall is one he would not trade, despite the difficulties that go with it – lines up precisely with the survey results in Misunderstood. I think there are lots of benefits to the TCK life, especially if the companion difficulties are recognised and managed effectively.
“What often happens with this lifestyle is a focus on the positives. And indeed there are many. TCKs are praised for being highly adaptable, able to blend into new situations, being open minded, living life in the now. They are often told how exciting and glamorous their lives have been. But one effect of this can be the child feeling under pressure to ignore or not even recognise any of the negatives. Particularly when back in their country of origin, it’s likely their new schools and friends will have had no experience of dealing with someone who has lived the life they have. The desire to try to fit in and act as if nothing unusual has happened to them can be very strong. Even though they may now feel almost like a stranger in their own home.”

How a school in India taught me to raise my expectations for my child
The Washington Post
This is a really interesting piece on one (American) family’s experience of cross cultural education, as their daughter attends a school in India. There’s a real sense of acknowledging the pain and difficulty, while also seeing the accompanying benefits of a different way of thinking about and doing education. A really interesting and worthwhile read.
“I certainly don’t want her to be crying alone in the elevator, and I do wish that the kids were given more time to run around during the day. But I’ve found my daughter’s school experience in India to be meaningful, even illuminating. And what I’ve come to respect most is the lack of choice. Because instead of choices, there are responsibilities…After years of free-form writing, she was skeptical that spelling mattered. But while attempting to memorize words such as “obviously” and “unfortunately,” she began to study. And that is not the same as doing homework. To study means to focus. Concentrate. Try. Fail. Try again. Alone. Because no one else can do it for you. In the process, she has accomplished far more than she thought herself capable of (even though she still can’t really spell). . .My observations are anecdotal, privileged and specific to my circumstances…But alongside her habit of saying thik ache (Bengali for “okay”), I hope my daughter brings back to the United States a deeper confidence in what she and all children can accomplish. And the understanding that, in fact, she always has a choice — perhaps not in what she does, but in how she does it.”

How Do You Introduce Yourself To Others?
Miriam Grobman Consulting
Love this piece about how we introduce ourselves, and both the frustrations and advantages of having a somewhat complicated background story.
“I was born in Russia to non-practicing Jewish parents. I grew up in Israel and moved again with my family, this time to Texas, as a teenager. I went to college and grad school and spent most of my career in the United States. Those three cultures have been incorporated into my worldview as a result. If things weren’t complicated enough, eight years ago I was offered and accepted a job at the headquarters of a Brazilian mining company in Rio de Janeiro. Since then, I learned Portuguese, married a Brazilian man, left that company and started my own business. I now divide my time between Austin and Rio, running my business from both places. In case you haven’t noticed, I am still trying to save time and summarize my life story for my readers. There must be a joke somewhere that starts with: “A Russian-Israeli American walks into a bar in Brazil..””

6 Adjustments of Moving Back to My Passport Country
Taking Route
I appreciated this balanced and honest perspective on repatriation, and the changes in routine that go with it. In this case, it’s a missionary family going from a remote location back to their passport country of the US.
“It’s heartbreaking to leave the life we had built in our host country. Even through sorrow, I looked forward to some of the conveniences of America: drive-thru, Amazon, working drier, A/C, paved roads, hot showers, modern medicine, and of course, time with family. And though I am enjoying those conveniences, I also am navigating the drawbacks and adjustments to life in America. Life isn’t completely rosy in here. Repatriation is not for the faint of heart.”

How setting a Minimum Viable Day proved I’m not actually failing all the time.
A Life Overseas
I love Anisha’s concept of a “Minimum Viable Day”. This is such a great strategy for managing life in a new situation!! What is the minimum that needs to be accomplished? Not an ideal day, not even an average day, but the bare minimum. This is a really helpful attitude. Every place is different – different tasks to be accomplished, and the same tasks may look different and take different amounts of time. So setting yourself a REALISTIC low bar means that you can see that you are managing even on hard days.
“I understood moving overseas would be an adjustment, but since I wouldn’t be working outside the home I was sure I’d have enough time on my hands to make the adjustment just fine. I’m not sure exactly what year into living overseas it was, but eventually I figured out that although I technically had fewer commitments, I most certainly did not have more time. For the first several years overseas just putting three meals on the table took 6+hours of each day. I wish to tell you that with such a large amount of time invested these were fancy, filling meals, but they were not. “I can do four things a day.” I said out loud to myself.”

Where you go, I go? Tips for the Relocating “Trailing Spouse”
Expat Nest
Heading off to a new country because your partner is offered a job there can sound exciting, perhaps even glamorous. But for many people, this can be fraught experience. This post does a great job of acknowledging the “hidden losses” that go along with following your partner on an overseas posting. There are also some helpful suggestions of practical ways “to create a happier life in your new location”.
“To truly trust in your life with another person and follow him/her away from your home country takes great courage. Because it is not at all easy to leave your life as you know it, to follow your significant other; to have to start all over again, often without a job or a sense of where you belong in the new/current scene. Trailing spouse, accompanying spouse, love-expat, lovepat (our favourite!)… no matter what you call it, no matter whether you have kids or not, and no matter your gender, those who relocate due to their partner’s career opportunities often experience unique difficulties in adapting. These difficulties may come as a surprise, or even go unacknowledged.”

Things I wish I knew before becoming a MilSpouse
We Are The Mighty
I found this piece really interesting. The author looks back on her 31 years as a military spouse, two years after her husband retired from service. She lists several things she wish she’d known beforehand, and some things that surprised her – including an appreciate for hard times, and the things she didn’t know she’d miss. I think non-military families might find several things in here resonate, but even if not it’s a great insight into a different experience of transience and family life being affected by a parent’s career.
“While by this point in the military spouse world it’s been drilled into us how important it is to create our own identity, pursue our own dreams and passions, that we’re not just military spouses (all good things, of course), it does no good to pretend military life won’t have an impact on the spouse and family. It will have an effect, whether it’s where you’re living, how much you see your spouse, if your kids will change schools numerous times, or the rest of the family stays put while the military member moves. It isn’t just another job, one that can be picked up and put down at will. It’s a completely different way of life.”

The beautiful ways different cultures sign emails
BBC
Finally, a piece about how people in different places sign off their emails – and how the same phrase can come across differently in different places!
“A comparative study of Korean and Australian academics suggests that email elements like closings do affect people’s perceptions of politeness across borders. Some 40% of the Koreans in this study found the Australian emails to be impolite, compared to 28% the other way around. . .Ending an email with the verbal equivalent of a hug can seem awkward to people from more reserved cultures i.e. the UK, yet in Brazil, for instance, this closing is acceptable for semi-formal emails.”

Recommended reading: May 6th, TCK perspective

In my last TCK perspective post I said I had too many for a single Recommended Reading post. So, here’s the next installment for you! Lots of writing by TCKs – long posts and short, reflecting on their experiences and telling their stories.

Does Citizenship Shape Identity? A “Third-Culture” Writer Takes Stock
Vogue
It was so hard to choose a small selection from this piece to share with you. Please, please go and read the whole article. The narrative of third culture experiences most often heard are very white, very western, very anglophone. It is a privilege to soak up this story, with all its many layers. Wonderful writing, so densely packed with emotion and explanation of a TCK’s perspective.
“When I procrastinated on a paper or failed to study properly for a midterm test, I’d wish for another coup, much in the same way that East Coast kids pray for snow days. Soon, though, only several dozen of us remained at the school. We were the ones with “bad” passports, the ones without secondary citizenships or whose countries of origin were not hospitable. I struggled to process the anomaly of being a member of a sociopolitical elite in one country, while knowing that my citizenship made me unimportant virtually anywhere else. . . Unlike some of my friends, who internalized racist Western critiques of their home cultures as oppressive or crude, I always recognized the beauty and value of where we came from. I didn’t rage against it. Instead I felt like a dull magnet, unable to attach to the traditions and ways of thinking that were supposed to shape much of my identity. I also felt the guilt associated with that. I couldn’t muster up a connection with Sudan, and that often felt like a betrayal.”

Resilience. My story.
Connecting the Pieces
Really interesting reflections on the mixed emotions of moving to a new place and starting again, especially from a TCK perspective.
“During the past twenty-two years of my life, I have lived in five different countries, went to five kindergartens, five schools and five universities. I flew before I could walk. I am a Third Culture Kid. When I turned 18, I had a sudden and strong sense of restlessness, and told my parents that I needed to move away from the place that had been my home the longest – Malaysia. I was bored and tired of what I already knew about Malaysia, and I wanted to study in Europe – somewhere I’d never been. For some reason my country of origin, Argentina, didn’t really call to me. I remember receiving my acceptance letter from my university in The Netherlands, and I think it never really hit my friends and family until the day I actually left. That day is still a complete blur in my memory – I think the mixture of excitement and sadness made me almost forget everything about it. What I do remember is being on the plane and wondering why I’d had such a strong urge to leave everything behind”

Thinking about Belonging and Being Known
We All See This World A Little Differently
And here are some poignant reflections on how all those moves can affect a TCK over time.
“All these moves have cultivated in me an almost indescribable tension. A tension between wanting to be known and wanting to be out of context. If you’re a fellow TCK (third culture kid) who’s reading this you might be nodding your head in understanding. Moving to a new place is normal, natural even. . . When you stay too long in one place you feel like you have to maintain the status quo, to not shift who you are, to live into the category that people have placed you in. Sometimes people’s perceptions of you can feel suffocating. Sometimes it feels tempting and freeing to escape these perceptions and recreate yourself in a new place, with new people – even though these perceptions and categories inevitably will be placed on you again.”

Language, School and Friends – What Life is Like for Teen Expats in Zagreb
Total Croatia News
An interview with the author’s younger brother provides lovely reflections from two perspectives on the challenges of connecting with others across cultures.
“You can always have friends and be courteous with each other but making a real connection is the tricky part. The language barrier does end up limiting your social circles and what you can get up to no matter how outgoing or positive you might be. Sitting at a cafe table with a group of our Croatian colleagues one time, my expat friend from Australia joked that “we have that Western understanding” and it’s very true. Don’t let that discourage you though.”

A letter to my 20-year-old self
3CK Life: Life as a Third Culture Kid
I love this post, and the concept – a TCK sharing advice with his younger self. He does a great job. There is so much good stuff in here!
“You’ve always kept to yourself, but at some point you’re going to have to muster the courage to open up to others; life is just too much to handle on your own. You may have only a couple of friends that you feel really close to, but talk to them and let them know what you’re going through and how you feel, just as they do with you. It’s okay to show weakness. You’re so accustomed to being belittled and berated for every little mistake, but not everyone is going to react that way. There will be someone that listens. You have only two years left with your best friends. Spend them wisely, or you could end up spending your 20s and beyond alone, with nobody who understands or to turn to.”

Where Are You From?
A Life Overseas
In this piece a teenage TCK reflects on the problem of “where is home?” and how she finds security in all the transition through her faith in a home located not in a geography by a spiritual reality.
“I have had the opportunity to meet many incredible people, to have many weird and wonderful experiences, and to have gained a greater understanding of the world around me. However, after being asked this question at every social gathering, and not at the fault of the one questioning, I have begun to feel a sort of resentment toward the, “So where is home to you?” question. I do not feel at home where I am today and will probably never feel totally at home wherever I will be in the future. There will always be some aspect of my current culture that I do not have an affinity with or do not particularly enjoy.”

Picture Perfect: When a TCK Marries a TCK (Part I)
Culturs Magazine
In this series of two posts, foreign service TCK Alexa talks about her marraige to a fellow TCK from a completely different background. In the first installment, she talks about how her view of her probably future (including marriage) shifted with her Third Culture life.
“And as I began to realize my multi-cultural-ness, I longed to know and love someone so equally broken, scattered, and yet complete, as I felt I was. My picture had been torn to tiny pieces, and put back together, and shredded, and crinkled, and reworked, and it had faded so many times. Maybe I didn’t have to pick and choose what I liked from my many cultures, maybe I could be free to be all of them at once, and maybe my future husband would be able to do the same. While I was completing my Bachelor’s Degree in Rome, Italy — the 6th country I call home — someone so outwardly NOT meant for me became my ideal match. He was born in Serbia, and raised in Hungary and Belgium, and I in America, raised in Germany, The Republic of Georgia, Russia, and Bulgaria. With this slew of nations, contrasts, languages, and perceptions, we somehow found common ground in the most unlikely of circumstances.”

Wherever We May Go: When a TCK Marries a TCK (Part II)
Culturs Magazine
And in the second installment, she talks about what their TCK-TCK marriage looks like, how it works. She admits her “infantile experience” with marriage, but she shares a really interesting perspective.
“At first glance, to me, our lifestyle is anything but out of the ordinary. It is the perfect in-between to which I have gotten so accustomed. We are neither an American family living in Serbia nor a typically Serbian family living in Belgrade. We are both equally foreign and local in whatever setting we may find ourselves. The only place we will ever fully 100% fit in, is in our own home: a haven where no nationality reigns. . . It means not feeling limited by geography. Home has been, and can be anywhere we want it to be. But it means, being content where we are, and yet longing for where we could be, or might one day find ourselves. It means feeling homesick sometimes together; and apart.”

On Crying – TCK memory
authentic.unrest
This short piece is a powerful expression of unseen grief many TCKS carry – losses that are unrecognised and not seen as valid.
“I cannot cry for a life I’ve lived but cannot share – a life so foreign – so many twisted stories and backtracking explanations. I cannot cry for a life of love and loss I didn’t choose – for a calling that was not mine. I cannot cry for any of that – because they won’t understand. They’ll hand over a tissue and say “but it’s all in the past, why does it bother you now?””

Water Towers, Too
Adrian Patenaude
And again, I’m ending with TCK poetry – this time an evocative poem about place and change. This one starts:
“i knew i’d miss mangos
pale yellow, smooth, size
of two fists combined
peeled, sliced
and juicy sweet

i was right
but surprised
by warm peaches”

Recommended reading: April 22nd, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! This week includes some great posts for young adult TCKs, and for those parenting TCKs of all ages.

Your Story Makes Sense
Life Story Therapies
Once again, Rachel hits the nail on the head with this wonderful post. So many TCKs learn to compartmentalise their lives. They separate all the pieces that only seem to make sense in particular contexts. This makes it hard to put together an integrated sense of self.
“Many Third Culture Kids have lived lives of staggering contrasts – poor here, rich there – face fits here, but language fits there – materially or experientially ‘lucky’, but experiencing so much loss. These contrasts can confound our attempts to make sense of our Selves. We tell our Stories haltingly, watching all the time for cues that our listener ‘gets it’. More often than not, we learn that somehow our Story alienates, alarms or confuses the people around us. And so we learn to partition the whole into discrete chapters – this one makes sense over here, that one makes sense over there. We learn who we are in relationship. The inter-personal acquaints us with the intra-personal. So it follows that the more fractured our relationships, the more fractured our sense of self risks becoming. If our story doesn’t make sense to others, we may begin to feel it doesn’t make sense to us either.”

Dear Young Adult TCK, What is the price of adapting?
TCK Training
This open letter to a Young Adult TCK is a perfect follow up to Lauren’s post on the “hidden shame” of TCKs (which I linked to in a previous recommended reading). Her point is that adaptation, while a great trait, is often masking a fear (or shame) that tells a TCK they need to be perfect. But what TCKs really need is to learn it’s okay to fail, it’s okay to ask for help, and that reaching out like this actually results in DEEPER relationships.
“If your goal is to look like you fit in, to look like you know what to do, to look like you are confidently and competently navigating the culture, then you are simply striving to portray and uphold an image. Not only is this exhausting, but it often prevents true connection and support… One of the greatest gifts for a TCK is finding people with whom they don’t need to put on a flawless show of brilliant adaptability. But, I don’t think the challenge is necessarily finding these people. The challenge is overcoming the shame that says that reaching out to them is weakness. So, I challenge you. Consider the reason behind your ever-adapting nature. Then, humbly take advantage of the resources available to help you find your people – the people who will get to know the you underneath your adapting-self. I know it’s hard, but you can do it. After all, us TCKs are always up for a good challenge.”

Resisting the Expat Bubble
It is Real
A lovely piece by an expat mum on the balancing act of raising her young TCKs with a connection to the local culture they live in. Connecting with local culture in meaningful ways is hard – it takes time and effort and, most of all, getting out of our comfort zones. Interacting in another language and culture isn’t comfortable!
“Learning Chinese will seem a whole lot more purposeful when my children are put in situations where they actually have to use it. They need more consistent contact with Chinese people… I try and ensure that we are out having authentic contact with Chinese people and experiencing the city. We take public transport and the girls say, “Ni hao” to random people on the bus. While it’s more convenient and requires a lot less brain power to just hang with my expat friends, I sense that my experience in China will be so much richer if I resist the temptation to retreat into the expat bubble. I’ve been surprised by how much Chinese my kids have learned from me… having my kids mimic my Chinese has made me think about how my actions and attitudes to life in China might impact them.”

Inner Onion Layers
TCK Town
Here is a short piece from a TCK point of view, and I love the image of the Friendship Expiry Date Elephant in every room. There are different ways of reacting to the Friendship Expiry Date Elephant, but it is an experience that most TCKs resonate with, and have had to find an accommodation with.
“As a TCK, moving from one city to another, I developed the ability to make friends quickly. Because of the transitory nature of our lives, we did not have the luxury that time offered typical friendships to evolve and grow organically. Never knowing how long someone would be around before leaving for another city was like having a proverbial friendship Expiry Date Elephant following us from room to room. Goodbyes became harder each time and eventually, I would hold these whirlwind friendships at arm’s length in an attempt to lessen the blow. It was an unspoken understanding between us. Make no mistake, these were not fake friendships to help the time pass. These friendships grew deep roots, fertilized by the urgency of time and flourishing at such a rate that you couldn’t help but guard yourself against their impending expirations.”

The Art Of Goodbye
TCK Town
Here’s another piece from TCK Town, this time on the topic of goodbyes. There are so many bittersweet moments in a life marked by transience. Goodbyes are never easy, and feeling the weight of them, over and over, is wearying. Understanding the impact of goodbyes is essential to living life well as an ATCK. We must all find our accommodations, our ways to learn to live with the goodbyes. We have to find the beauty even as we allow ourselves to feel the brokenness.
“I was elated to see him and my other friends graduate; proud of them for finishing their degree and excited for the endless possibilities their lives contained. I was also heartbroken that they were leaving. Mostly, though, I was grateful that our lives have crossed paths to begin with. That day, I watched the commencement ceremony online, not because there wasn’t enough room in the auditorium but because goodbyes are extremely difficult for me. I wasn’t there, not because I didn’t care, but because I cared too much.”

Commentary: Take time to listen to military kids during moves, deployments
DVIDS
Great piece from a military parent on an essential skill for parents of families in transition: stopping to really listen to your kids. Their lives are full of both ups and downs, and in the midst of it all what they really need is you.
“Do military children have bad days? Of course. Do they have times when they’re sick of moving? I’m sure of it. But one of the great things about what military children generally go through is that they go through it, and grow through it, together.
Still, we as parents have a responsibility to acknowledge our children’s hurts from the difficulty of a move or deployment. We owe it to them to listen — actively, without distractions. . . I recognized I had wrongfully assumed my son should just get through it. These days, I am learning to slow down a bit, put work-related stressors on the back burner a little longer, and engage in my son’s world more often.”

Few things teach resilience like being a military child
The News Tribune
And here’s another great piece from a different military parent, reflecting on the struggles their children go through, and the resilience this can build. I especially appreciated her reflections on the many ways changing schools can affect a child – more than I could include in a short excerpt! A great read, for any family going through frequent transitions.
“The school might misinterpret a girl’s transcript, placing her in the wrong level of math, then changing her schedule three months into the year, requiring another round of starting over socially. A boy might know histories of four states and learn the same science curriculum two years in a row because of varying requirements. She only gets to see extended family every few years because she is stationed on the other side of the country, or ocean. He wonders whether to tell Mom how sad he is Dad is deployed, but doesn’t want to add to Mom’s stress… But what doesn’t crush their souls ultimately makes military kids strong. If they’re lucky, they encounter peers who are open to new friendships. If they stay long enough, they gradually build acquaintances into affection. At the very least, they learn how to adapt and endure. They’ve benefited from (or survived) five ways of teaching reading and four styles of coaching basketball. They know if one approach to a problem doesn’t work, another might.”

Should You Let Go of an Old Friendship if You’ve Grown Apart?
Thrive Global
A really insightful piece about the nature of friendships, and how they change over time. I talk a lot in my seminars about the fact that friendships change as we move through life, and about those changes being natural. This concepts of inner and outer circles is a great way to explain the shifts over time – and help explain why there’s no need for guilt over changing relationships, or to cut ties with friends completely, even if you don’t see them often.
“Through our lifespan it’s perfectly natural for different friends to move in and out of our inner circle. So my guess is that you need to change your inner circle rather than dumping the old friends. Everyone else in your life can fit on one of the outer circles. And since the relationships can shift around, someone who was once very intimate might now belong in your outer circles. Even though you’ll have less time, energy, and attention going in their direction, you still value them and want them in your life. . . So while it’s perfectly natural for you to feel that the friends from your past are irrelevant to your present, unless these relationships are actually toxic, I would caution you from completely disconnecting from them. It’s good to have all kinds of friends. We can be enriched by people in our larger circles, even when we may not have all that much in common.”

When this Expat thing gets too much – 5 Self Help Tips
Making Here Home
Lots of good solid advice for self-care in the difficult seasons of expat life.
“It is very easy to want to curl up and hide. But staying home and hiding away is not a good idea; the less you go out, the harder it is to go out. Go for a walk, explore the area where you live; admittedly this has been a lot easier in Europe than it was in Asia where it was so hot and humid even going for a short walk was hard. But the point is getting out there. It’s in discovering places and interacting with people that we start to build our new mental map of wherever it is we are living. There is a sense of pride in finding a new coffee shop just down the road, or a nearby park, or a street vendor that sells the best pineapple. And those simple human interactions with people – a hello to a fellow dog walker, passing the time of day with the cashier at your local shop – can be like little sparks of joy.”

Wait, You Too?
Tertiary
I’m finishing with a short little post by a TCK who captures what can be so powerful about this whole concept: not being “labelled” as a TCK, but finding others who share aspects of your experience.
“I spent most of my teenage years (and a little of my adult life) wrestling with insecurities: I was never Scottish enough to be Scottish, and never Latina enough to be Latina. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, like I’d been made wrong, and that I would never be able to fit in. I remember one day at university broaching that subject with a British-born Korean friend. She looked at me wide-eyed for a second, then said, “Wait, you too?””

Recommended reading: April 15th, 2019 – TCK perspective

It’s been a long time since I last put together a TCK Perspective edition of Recommended Reading. That’s what I’ve done this week, gathering posts from the last few months in which TCKs share their own perspectives – their individual stories and experiences. Actually, it’s been so long since I’ve done this that I’ve decided to split it up into two posts! Stay tuned for a follow up soon…

Aramco Brats: Life inside the Kingdom
The Third Culture Kid Project
Poignant reflections on the particular experience of oil brats – specifically, Aramco brats. These are TCKs who grew up in the compounds run by Saudi oil company Aramco.
“Saudi Arabia is one of the hardest countries in the world to get a tourist visa especially if you are not Muslim. This means that once expats finish their work assignments and their work visa finishes, they can never (or at least in most cases) go back. It is perhaps this very fact that makes KSA so hard to say goodbye to. Growing up we always joked that we lived in a “bubble” but it was only until I left that I realised how true that really was. . . We could drive for hours yet reach nowhere. We were always confined by the compound walls- but because we were all together, this somehow always felt okay. I always believed I was living a normal teenage life but thinking back that’s not quite how it was. . . But here is a secret: Aramco Brats never truly move on. We always carry a part of our childhood/teenage years with us. It is what allows us to connect with the rest of the Aramco brats around the world. Its what creates that special bond. Saudi for us is the place where we made friends that we trust with our lives, where we were surrounded by people from all places, races and religions and we cared for each other unconditionally. Saudi is the place where we were raised not only by our parents but our friend’s parents. It is the place that taught us to add “wallah” “ mishwar” “ inshallah” to our vocabulary. . . Saudi taught me how to love not only people, but cultures, and sunrises, and car rides. It made me fall in love with streets and routine. I left over six years ago, and there is not one day where I don’t miss home.”

Third Culture Kid spotlight: Meet Daniel
Chameleon Dance
An interview with a TCK from a corporate family, talking a little about his perceptions of the world from the vantage of his Third Culture childhood.
“Home for me really depends on the people around me, because places can change. It’s not so cut and dry, though. Places are important too, and ultimately home comes from that combination of places that you feel comfortable in, with people you like having around you that help you feel at home. And yes, this can be more than one place.

The Crazy, Awesome, Challenging Lives of Diplo-Teens
Jan von Schleh
This next story is an interview with several embassy kids.
“Typically, once my family moves away from one city, we don’t go back. I don’t have a ‘home town’ anywhere in the world, not even in the United States! I make friends wherever I go, but never good enough to travel back and visit. My extended family members are the only people we ever go back to see, and while it’s a very small group of people, they’re all spread out over the US. During our summers, my parents and I usually stay where we are and let family come to us because we move so often, it might be their only chance to visit the crazy places we live! Sometimes my immediate family then visits a new country like Croatia, Greece, or Finland!”

My Final Mistake in Bogota
Raised in the Foreign Service
And going back in time, we have a childhood vignette from an embassy kid, reflecting on a story from her time in Colombia.
“As we approached the end of the year, I was no longer the new kid in Mrs. Ospina’s fourth grade class at the English School in Bogotá. I had caught up on stuff I missed when Dad worked at the Embassy in Rome. Instead of the Etruscans, the English School taught the Henrys, Shakespeare and how we lost the colonies. A good story always held my attention. But a new hurdle loomed: the final examinations, a series of essay questions written in England, mailed across the Atlantic to Colombia and mailed back to England to be graded. I imagined a line of stern women, stuffed into tweed suits like our headmistress Mrs. Mason, hunched over our papers and ripping at them like Andean vultures.”

Loneliness My Old Friend
Velvet Ashes
Next up, meditations on the experience and lessons of loneliness, as told by a missionary kid who grew up in rural Mongolia:
“I grew up in areas of Mongolia that were very isolated. There were years I spent in cities without other expat children and friendships were hard for me to build among the nationals. You know you are different, and they know you are different and, while you love each other deeply, you are keenly aware that you don’t fit, that this isn’t your home. For many years my best friends wouldn’t acknowledge me in public.”

On the Topic of “Goodbye”…
We All See This World A Little Differently
This TCK shares a lot of great insights on the impact of goodbyes in the lives of TCKs.
“Probably the most significant goodbye I have ever experienced was the day I graduated. I graduated with 27 other people that represented 11 different nationalities. I, likely, will never again (on this earth) be in the same space as those 27 others. The day I graduated, I said goodbye to people I grew up with. People who formed who I was up until that point. When I say the word “goodbye”, generally, I think people associate that with the choice to leave. In the Ex-Pat (ex-patriot) community, goodbyes come in various forms. They come in re-assignment from an organization, they can come from the local government not allowing you back in the country, they can come from you staying but your friend/family member going “home”. Goodbyes come in all sorts of ways. Somethings I’ve learned about goodbye are that they never get any easier. I guess with advances in technology we are able to stay in visual contact, but it is still hard when there is a lack of physical presence (and this is by no means isolated to the TCK life).”

Living Hopefully with Depression – Iona’s Story
Noggy Bloggy
This is a powerful piece in which one TCK tells her story of coping with depression.
“I’ve always had strong emotions. When we lived in Portugal I devoured the time with my family, loving the beach, the sun, the baked chicken we ate with fresh bread on Sundays. When we moved to Angola I felt the fear, the stress, the anxiety about a new and dangerous place. Then my sisters started moving to boarding school and I felt the loneliness, the quietness, the dependable fact of change and the swift passage of time. I cried. I yelled. I immersed myself in imaginary characters to deal with stress and emotions. The point is – I felt. I felt a lot and I felt often. Experiencing extreme emotions was an essential part of being Iona, and when that part disappeared I knew something was wrong. . . There are many aspects of our lives that are lonely. No one will be able to understand your exact interpretation or experience. With TCKs I think this can be even more profound. We’re told to relate and understand so much about a variety of cultures but when it comes to understanding ourselves we can be at a loss – as can others. . . I want to be honest with this post because I don’t believe there’s enough honesty about mental illness in our world. I am not writing this from a place of healing. I have not ‘recovered’ from depression.”

No, I am not an Asian-American
Technique
This post talks about Third Culture experiences and identity, and how that identity is misunderstood by others.
“I am Filipino by ethnicity and by nationality: I speak Tagalog and I eat Filipino food, but I have never lived in the Philippines. I was born in Singapore. From there, we moved to Jakarta, Indonesia. We ended up in Paris, France, for a while and then found ourselves in Moscow, Russia, before moving to Houston, Texas, where I lived for eight years before moving to Atlanta to attend Georgia Tech. I was raised in a hybrid “typical Asian” family and a Westernized family dynamic. . . I am a “third-culture” individual and a first-generation immigrant to America. I am not an Asian-American. . . I only sound and act American because that’s how I learned to survive and thrive in other countries — to immerse myself truly and fully in the native culture, while still maintaining my Filipino heritage.”

Spoken Word Poetry – Don’t Keep Your Distance (Do You Know How Many Times I Have Moved?)
CulTure miKs
And finally, a beautiful spoken word poem that starts like this:
“Do you know how many times
I have moved?
Sometimes I count them on my fingers,
fistful after fistful of tears
swollen in my throat and I try
to remember every single one
but I can’t.”

Recommended reading: April 8th, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! I’m still catching up on great content from March – but these posts are too good to miss sharing! Lots of great advice for those parenting and supporting TCKs, especially teeangers and young adults. There’s also a selection of different topics related to expat life more generally, and a really powerful long read to savour. Enjoy!

Also, if you missed my recent blog posts on TCK Tattoos and my own tattoo story I encourage you to take a look! I go into some of the reasons tattoos can be particularly meaningful to TCKs and others who live internationally. I’ve been getting great feedback on them this week!

The Hidden Shame of the TCK
TCK Training
This is a powerful and very important piece on the role that shame plays in the adaptibility demonstrated by many TCKs. This is SUCH a key topic. There is so much fear and anxiety at play in many TCKs’ inner lives. Understanding the role that shame plays is game changing.
“The underlying reason for mastering the trait of adaptability was shame. For many teenage and young adult TCKs, this shame dictates their life. They put an incredible amount of energy and emotion into looking like they belong out of fear that they will be found out. Out of fear that they will misstep and someone will see it and mentally shame them for their cultural faux pax. Out of fear that people will confirm their feelings and they truly will never fit in. Shame is not often talked about in the TCK world, though I believe that it is a significant issue for this growing population. If you are a parent of a TCK, or are working with TCKs, consider bringing “shame” into your vocabulary. Spend a significant amount of time helping your TCK to wrestle through the things that are core to who they are. How do those core traits play out in their life? What do they do because it is a part of who they are, and what do they do out of fear of not blending in with everyone else?”

The no 1 thing your teen wants you to do after moving back home
Keeping It Real Me
Great post sharing the experiences of teenage TCKs going through repatriation – how they feel in the midst of it, how hard it is for parents to watch their kids struggle, and how parents can help their teen TCKs. The bottom line is that teenage TCKs want their parents to LISTEN – to provide space for the TCK to talk about what they’re going through, and not try to fix it. This is the same thing I’ve heard repeatedly from teenage TCKs around the world, not just in regard to repatriation, but to all kinds of transitions. They know it can’t be “fixed” – and they don’t want you to pretend it can be. They just want you to be there, to listen, and comfort, in the midst of the hard feelings.
“They also felt that they couldn’t really talk about how they felt because they didn’t want to come over as a spoilt expat brat who didn’t appreciate all the opportunities they’ve had. So they kept it all in. Pushed those feelings away. A coping mechanism all to familiar to the average TCK teen. . . We feel this guilt as a parent because we made the decision to live this expat life. And even though we can justify our decision with very valid points – our kids didn’t ask for it. Yet they have to adjust, start over and leave again. . . You know what the number 1 thing is that a teen needs from you as a parent? It’s for you to not do anything. Just listen. When they’re sad. Or mad. Or struggling. They want to be able to talk about it. Complain about it. Cry about it. They don’t want you to fix it.”

Third culture kids: How parents and teachers can support young global nomads
Study International
An article full of solid information, perspectives, and advice. Lots of top-notch experts in the field quoted! Not a deep dive, but definitely a helpful read. A great recommendation for anyone you know who is new to raising TCKs!
“So how can one lend support to TCKs? Engage with them. Instead of asking them questions about where he or she is from or what’s troubling them, the report suggests asking the child about where they have lived, what they’ve left behind to open the doors of communication and to listen carefully to what they have to say. This gives them the time, space and permission to remember and mourn.”

Blackbird: Sisters in Flight
The Black Expat
Great story about the comfort, encouragement, and sanity that comes from the solidarity shared between black women living abroad. Now, obviously I am not a black woman, but it’s important for me to listen to the stories of expats who have different experiences to me. It’s important to truly understand that we all experience this world a little differently.
“I can’t count the number of times I’ve been saved by a Black woman. The Black woman who knowingly smiles at me when we’re the only two Black people in the whole place, even if we don’t speak the same language. The group of Black women who can meet at an event and talk for hours about where to buy Black hair care products in a predominately white country. The Black woman who works in the mayor’s office who responds to my cold email inquiry, introducing me to four other Black women leaders who can help me reach my professional goals. I’m so grateful for the countless Black women who are walking paths that can be similar or distant from mine – paths that connect us at just the right time, offering me those life-saving moments of familiarity, comfort and sanity.”

Shock and Testing: Two More Twists on the Road to Grief Recovery?
Good Therapy
An interesting overview of research around grief modelling, and how it does (and doesn’t) work for many people.
“In his book Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, David Kessler argues that the quest for meaning might be the final stage of grief before acceptance. While the original model was presented as sequential, most grief experts now argue that a person can go through the stages in any order. They may also repeat or revisit stages, especially during times of intense emotional distress. For example, a person grieving the loss of their father might become angry over his loss when he is not present at their wedding, even if they already experienced the anger stage years before.”

The Challenges and Opportunities in Managing a Health Condition Abroad Part II
Families In Global Transition
This is part two in a series on managing health conditions while living internationally. (I noted the first post in an earlier Recommended Reading post.) I was particularly interested in this post given my own international health issues over the past six months. This paragraph in particular really spoke to me:
“Looking back, those patients who describe a real sense of personal power and satisfaction around how they coped with their healthcare challenges are those who also claimed some authority over their own bodies and medical history. They’ve honed in on their intercultural communication skills, persisted if dismissed, got creative, and kept searching for a physician who shared their values.”

Empathy Is Admitting You Don’t Understand
Sojourners
On a totally different note, I appreciated this post on empathy. Many expats and TCKs run into a lack of empathy in others who do not understand (or recognise) the difficulties they struggle with as a result of international life. Often these are dismissed with a comment about the great things that we get to experience abroad. I can imagine the incredible difference it would make to the thousands of TCKs I have known if they experienced true empathy from the people in their lives.
“Sympathy is what we offer to another when we acknowledge that a situation or experience is unfortunate, and leave it at that. Sympathy lets us claim that we “feel bad,” but absolves us from any further responsibility to learn or change. Empathy, however, calls us to consider another person’s story and reflect on their experience. Empathy calls us to be compassionate and to truly consider how another person feels. It calls us to want to learn, grow, and evolve toward love.”

Uncertain Ground
Longreads
I’m finishing with a post that is really fascinating and worth reading, but I’ve left it til last because it is a long read (obviously!). It’s something to put time aside for, to meander through and enjoy, not skim through quickly. In it a TCK (an intersectional TCK, at that) talks about grief and geography. Such a deeply important and emotionally powerful piece of writing.
“We were a curious cultural hybrid: a family of Taiwanese origin living as American expatriates in a British territory where we resembled the local Chinese population, but did not speak the same language and had little in common with them. . . Even though my mom and I had not lived in the same country for more than two decades and my memories of her were from another time and place, I was unhinged by grief. There was no grave to visit here, no church that would say prayers for her soul, no community of the also-bereaved. Everyone who was close to my mom lived in Taiwan. I came “home” to California where no one experienced her absence profoundly, where no one had to deal with canceling her prescriptions, washing her laundry, throwing away her unopened mail or staring at her empty chair. My grief was overwhelming because there was no context or container for it. Its free-floating shapelessness terrified me because that meant it could strike anytime, anywhere, without warning. One year later I went back to Tienpin to place my dad’s ashes next to my mom’s, and complete the engraving on the plaque that marked their final resting place. The day of my mom’s service, it had been bright and sunny. The day we brought my dad’s ashes to Tienpin, there was a violent thunderstorm. I was happy they were reunited, but my own grief multiplied. In Chinese folklore, wandering ghosts cause the most trouble. Now I understand it’s because they want what we want – to be grounded, to be claimed. Grief works the same way. The more restless it is, the more damage it does. It too needs a home.”

Recommended reading: April 1st, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! I have a typically eclectic mix for you this week. I’ve been delighted to find so much wonderful content out there lately. And every week it’s lovely to hear from readers who appreciate these little introductions. On that note, here’s a little plug for my Patreon – a platform to support creators. I’m seeking financial contributions to help me continue my work, both creating content like this to support the expat/TCK community, but especially the research I’m doing into adult Third Culture Kids. Anyone who sponsors me $2 a month gets access to early findings from my research, which I’m sharing exclusively with my patrons. Find out more on my Patreon page.

Black & Stared At…Abroad
The Black Expat
A really interesting piece on the struggle of standing out – in this case, a black American expat family living the “trule white world” of Ireland.
“When we first moved to Dublin, Ireland from Houston, Texas one of the first things we noticed was the lack of Black people in the city. We would go days without seeing another Black person besides the people in our little family of four. As our time in Dublin continued, we grew accustomed to the lack of color outside our home. But the stares are something my husband and I will never get used to…We have Irish friends and through genuine conversations we are fully aware that most stares are coming from a place of curiosity due to an unintentional lack of exposure. This is not the US and the playing field is different and the history of the country and people must be taken into consideration. It is an opportunity for us to grow and learn from one another. I do admit, however, that I am a firecracker of a human and on some days the stares really get to me…Despite the struggles of living as a Black expat in a truly white world, I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to move past the stares and open the door to difficult communication and much needed awareness of diversity.”

Rousing Yourself from Expat Lethargy
Taking Route
Great post with practical advice to help get out of an expat funk. I particularly loved the last one on the list: “Planning a date with my host country”.
“There comes a time in each expat’s life when the struggles, challenges, and difficulties are no longer exciting and novel. Daily life is a slog. Instead of rising in the morning with resolve and purpose, you want to stay in bed…or better yet, hop on a plane and get back to the place where living is easy, where you can shop, work, and talk to friends without thinking twice about how to do those things. Everyone has those days. But sometimes a day can turn into a season.”

Expat Life: Living In the Middle
World Tree Coaching
A lovely piece from Jodi reflecting on life “in the middle” that is so familiar to those of us who live highly transitional lives.
“Over the course of our expat life I’ve come to realize that trying to define these events as having distinct beginnings, middles and ends is fruitless. Right now, for example, when we have neither moved from Tokyo nor arrived in Brussels, feels like beginning, middle and end; a little bit of all three mixed up in a strange, confusing mishmash of this moment. Yet, even if it’s confusing, there is indeed a real feeling to this in-between place…It’s that time when you start to pull back from the life you’re leading in one place and begin to allot designated moments to begin to deal with the preparations of the next location.”

Chokladbollar in the story of Alaine Handa
Expat Clic
A lovely interview with Alaine, author of the cookbook, In Search of the Best Swedish Chokladbollar. I love the way Alaine’s experiences all around the world have come together in this literally sweet cookbook.
“The preparation of chokladbollar is usually quite consistent across the different cities, with only minimal variation from the traditional recipe. I decided to put together my passion for chocolate balls and my life as a Third Culture Kid, preparing chokladbollar with ingredients from all the places that I have lived in. Some of my recipes include in fact matcha (a strong green tea from Japan), kaya (coconut jam very common in Singapore and Malaysia), bakkwa (a Chinese salty-sweet dried pork jerky meat also typical in Singapore), and even s’mores (marshmallows and biscuits melted together, commonly eaten in the USA). I put a little bit of my expat experience in every chokladbollar I prepare!”

Three Ways to Bloom in Place
Life Story Therapies
A lovely little piece taking the analogy of a plant growing to give insights to ATCKs learning to adapt and grow wherever they find themselves.
“Where do you need space to grow? Let’s talk environment. I, like many other Third Culture Kids, feel restless if my physical environment remains static for too long. If I choose not to change country or house, it’s likely I will find myself changing furniture around, or switching up the interior decorations. This is okay! Find a constructive way to give yourself an environment that stimulates your growth, that inspires your creativity, that offers the peace you need to bloom.”

‘My identity went’: Mental health issues torment trailing spouses
Al Jazeera
This article talks to several expat women in Qatar about their experiences as “trailing spouses” – moving to another country because of a partner’s job, without employment of their own. While the term “trailing spouse” is falling out of favour, the struggles that go with it are real. And this article shares some great insights and helpful advice from women who have been there.
“To avoid spousal resentment and maintain one’s mental health, Wlasuik advises women to evaluate what they want from the expatriate experience. “You need to have a goal in mind to avoid wandering aimlessly for two years, and then realising you’ve become a completely different person and actually not like yourself,” she said. “Even if you do [adapt] as a result of the environmental change, at least you’re aware of it and not lost.” Above all, she recommends communication. “Reach out,” she said. “You are not alone. You are not the first one to go through this, and you are certainly not the last.””

Moving Abroad with Kids: How to Make Relocating Easier for Them
The Global Dispatch
This post brings together a lot of simple but still solid advice for parents taking children abroad. The description of TCKs at the end is a bit trite, but overall this is a good introduction for anxious parents.
“Taking kids abroad can be quite a difficult venture to navigate around. Parents often wonder if their child or children can cope with such a drastic change. If you’re thinking of moving abroad with your kids, read on and learn a bit more about how to make the journey easier for them.”

The struggle of friendships living abroad
Share The Love
A short but sweet post about some of the characteristics of expatriate friendships.
“Don’t be surprised if expat friendships can become more intimate than you are used to in just a short amount of time. It is just normal that we are more open about our feelings when we feel understood. Most likely you find yourself in a similar situation making it possible for a friendship to grow strong and supporting in only a couple of cups of tea. Get used to saying good-bye. Also be prepared to say good-bye more often than you are used to. Expats are jumpy human beings. People are coming and going, plans are changing, work projects are ending early or new opportunities arise in another country. There is always something going on in an expat community.”

Bilinguals hear sounds differently based on the language they think they’re listening to, new study shows
Concordia
This is a little off topic, but it’s fascinating to me so maybe you’ll enjoy it too! This article talks about how bilinguals interpret sounds, based on what language they are expecting to hear.
“It’s almost like there is a setting they can set to activate their English configuration and filter it through English ears versus a French configuration where they would filter it through French ears. And we think they can switch configurations very quickly.”

On Longing
Communicating Across Boundaries
I’m ending with something a little different – a post by Marilyn on the concept of “longing”. This is something that all humans experience, and yet it seems particularly apt in a TCK/expat context. We often feel the ache of longing for a place that is geographically distant. Or for a person who is far away.
“A couple of weeks ago I asked folks how they would define “longing” on the Communicating Across Boundaries Facebook page. Your responses did not disappoint. The thing that made them so significant to me is that I know some of the stories behind these responses…I know the ones who have said too many goodbyes, the ones who have experienced significant loss of place and people. So as you read these, know that they come from hearts and lives of those who have suffered but continue to live. And to you who read this, may you feel hope in our shared experiences of longing.”

Recommended reading: March 25th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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