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: 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.”

The Impact of School Culture

I recently started writing more about cross-cultural education, and in particular, how this affect family dynamics. This week I have a post on China Source talking more about this.

“In School A, the child was trained that the way to succeed at school is to ask questions of the teacher during class. When this child moved to School B, acting in this way resulted in the child being labelled a rebellious troublemaker. While asking questions is a sign of independent thought prized in School A, in School B it is a sign of questioning the teacher’s authority — which will not be tolerated! This is bewildering and discouraging for the student. It is baffling and infuriating for the parents — if they even discover the root of the problem. What is considered normal and acceptable discipline is different in different cultures. The character qualities prized in students differs. Children learn to adapt, but these cultural misunderstandings and conflicts can leave a lasting impression.”

I also give a few general tips for parents who are dealing with the impact of cross-cultural schooling. Mostly this centres on values – knowing your values as a family, and the values of the school your child attends, and learning how to recognise potential value clashes, and deal with them using a values-based approach.

“Whatever the situation, try to focus on values: what values are the school/teacher operating out of? What values of your own are being infringed on? Keeping a values-focus will help you build understanding instead of grudges — a big temptation when your child’s welfare is involved!”

This is something I plan to write more about in the future, particularly the importance of understanding values.

You can read the full post, titled The Impact of School Culture, on China Source.

I’d love to hear about your own experiences with cross-cultural education. What lessons did you learn, and what tips would you offer? What questions do you have, or what support are you looking for?

 

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.”

Reflections on FIGT 2019

FIGT logoFIGT stands for Families In Global Transition, and it is a volunteer-led organisation that resources the globally mobile community. One of the big impacts of FIGT comes through its annual conference.

I first attended FIGT in 2017 and I had an incredible experience. The 2019 FIGT conference in Bangkok was my second – and it was both a very different and very familiar experience! It’s hard to adequately explain to someone who has never been quite exactly how and why this conference is so special. But I’m going to try – because if you’re reading my blog, chances are you are in some way connected to international life. Perhaps you live overseas, or used to, or people you care about do. Whatever your connection, FIGT is a community worth connecting with and investing in.

Community

I used that word deliberately, because this is one of the big things that makes FIGT stand out. It isn’t just a conference; it is a gathering of people who form a community. This community is scattered across the world most of the year, but when you get them together – wow! It is special. FIGT conferences are often described as a “reunion of strangers”. You can be in a group of people you’ve never met and yet feel so at home. You all already share a certain understanding and experience of life – even if you don’t know how to articulate it.

FIGT President Dawn Bryan said that being a “welcoming community” is one of the top priorities of the conference – and I love that. I love that this is a conference that knows it is different, and embraces that relational connection as a vital and central part of its character.

Post-conference the community continued! Drinks, food, and swimming on the rooftop of the hotel many of us were staying in.

Post-conference the community continued! Drinks, food, and swimming on the rooftop of the hotel many of us were staying in.

Conversation

A natural result of a conference with a community focus is that you end up spending a lot of time in conversation. I loved having meaningful conversations with all sorts of people, from all sorts of backgrounds. I doubt there were more than twenty people I’d met in person before, perhaps four or five I’d seen in the past year. So while I did have some lovely conversations with people I’d talked to before, most of my conversations were first conversations.

figt19_jj-thThere were so many people I felt like I knew – I had been in online meetings with them, read their books/blogs, or interacted with them on social media. There were people I met for the first time, but felt like I was catching up with an old friend. (Jerry Jones was a great example of this feeling!) There were also people who, when we met, shared greetings sent to me from mutual friends.

There were also conversations with perfect strangers – people I’d never met, and had no other connection to. Conversations that were interesting and intellectually stimulating and often emotionally powerful as well. I don’t think I can overstate the quality of people at this conference. Drawn from so many different places, sectors, and experiences – and all of them wonderful! It is literally inspiring – giving me new ideas, clarifying my vision, and re-energising my motivation.

figt19_people

A mix of people I’d met and people I felt like I’d met!

Content

FIGT is known for having tonnes of amazing content. There are always difficult choices to make because you can only go to one of the amazing concurrent sessions in each time slot! I was involved in managing the event logistics for this year’s conference, which meant a very different experience of the conference content. I didn’t make it to many sessions. I presented twice, and was at least physically present for most of the plenary sessions on the final day, but my exposure to the amazing content was somewhat sporadic. And yet!

Working at the conference (with the rest of volunteer board!) was another lovely experience of community.

Working at the conference (with the rest of volunteer board!) was another lovely experience of community.

I think what surprised me most was how much I felt I walked away with, simply from my first two points alone – community and conversation. This was really interesting to me, and I think quite important to note. The content is brilliant. So much research, so many different sectors represented, opportunities to engage with your own niche field or be exposed to lots of new ideas. So much creativity, authenticity, and excellent material. And yet – this amazing content isn’t where the magic comes. The magic comes from the people with whom you share and experience the content. There’s something about being together that makes it all the more powerful.

That said, I’m extremely glad that as an FIGT member I have access to lots of content from the conference, especially for amazing sessions I couldn’t attend! Lots of notes and presentations, and even some videos, will be made available to all members – not just those who attended the conference! I honestly think it’s worth considering joining as an FIGT member for access to resources like this alone. (I believe an individual membership is about $65, which is really quite reasonable, and there are student discounts.)

figt19_present

Captured during a session I co-led with Debbie Kramlich, looking at how cross-cultural education can impact families.

Being in my field

Something truly wonderful for me about FIGT is that it is a place where I can exist in a shared professional space in REAL LIFE, not just virtually. There are a number of people around the world working with and advocating for TCKs – writing, speaking, consulting with international schools and organisations – in short, doing what I do. But we’re spread out all across the world. FIGT is one of the only opportunities I’ve ever had to spend time with a group of people who are working in similar and parallel fields to me.

It’s also an opportunity to spend time with people who are aware of and value the work that I’m doing, whether my field generally, or my own work in particular. Reflecting on how deeply this impacted me, I struggled to discern if my joy was due to ego-stroking. Did it please my pride to be told that someone loved my book, used (and cited) my work in their own presentation, praised my work in glowing terms, described herself as a “fangirl”…? Possibly. If I was arrogant about these things it definitely would. But really, as I reflected on my feelings, I realised what all this did for me was give me a sense of validation.

I spend a lot of time alone at a computer. I do public seminars and visits to schools, but it is generally me dropping into an existing group and then leaving again. I’m a special guest, rather than part of their community. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love what I do! I know I’m doing important research. I know my work is valuable, and appreciated. But I rarely get to hear it. And I very rarely get to spend time with people who know my field, and can have deeper-level conversations about topics we engage with. It felt a little like stretching my intellectual muscles, doing some heavier lifting. It reminds me I really do love what I do, and I want to do more of it!

What a wonderful experience! Already looking forward to next year...

What a wonderful experience! Already looking forward to next year…

Recommended reading: May 13th, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! I’m catching up on some great posts after my month of travel, so this is a mix of newish and oldish posts – but all worth a read!

Blind iftar anyone? Meet new people and enjoy iftar with this cool Ramadan concept in Dubai
Gulf News
Ramadan has begun, and Muslims around the world are fasting, reflecting, and celebrating – including many who are expats! This article features a fun concept happening at a housing complex in Dubai, connecting families who host iftar dinners for their non-muslim neighbours to experience and learn about this Ramadan practice. What a lovely way to build community in the diverse expat world.
“When you share food, you share love and the bond grows automatically. Sharing a table gives us time to talk to each other. The Swedish family had so many questions about Islam and Ramadan. They wanted to know why we fast. And I explained that fasting helped us value life, people, food and to not waste. And iftar is the best way of bringing people closer. It was fun, informal and we had a healthy, informative exchange. I cooked traditional Jordanian food”

6 Reasons Short-Term Friendships Are Worth Your Time
Taking Route
Great post summing up a lot of my own thoughts and arguments about why it’s important to invest in relationships wherever you’re living, no matter how short a time you’ll be there. Seriously, if you’ve ever felt that friendship fatigue, that it might not be worth the effort to make new friends AGAIN, then this is a great post to read. And if you’ve never felt that way before, especially as an expat, I can almost guarantee it’ll happen to you one day – so this is still a great read!
“When you’re an expat, it seems like all your friendships start with a timer. How long until one of you moves? Is it really worth putting the time into building a friendship when there’s already an expiration date on the horizon? Wouldn’t it be easier to just keep acquaintances casual, so it’s easier to say goodbye? Having experienced times of short but good friendships, and also times where I eschewed making new friends in favor of a simpler or quieter life, I can give you the answers up front: Yes, investing in a friendship for a short season is worth it. And no, it isn’t easier to spend a year or two without friends, preparing for the day you’ll move again.”

Rediscovering Myself as a TCK
TCK Town
I loved reading this story of a TCK learning what a “TCK” is for the first time! I’ve heard this story from dozens of TCKs around the world – the moment they realised they belonged to a wider tribe of scattered individuals who GET IT. This can be an incredibly powerful realisation!
“My discovery of the concept of the TCK transformed me. After learning about the existence of others like me firsthand, I felt I firmly belonged to a community, a feeling which I had lacked ever since I started to question my identity, and a feeling that I realized was important. I now feel I am not alone and have people like me with whom I can identify. In short, I feel like I am more firmly part of the world. More importantly, after learning about TCKs, I formed a sense of identity. Now I can describe myself as a TCK, who doesn’t necessarily classify as belonging to a single traditional culture but to a particular global community of people who are “citizens of everywhere and nowhere.””

Third Culture Kids Aren’t a Triangle – They’re a Wave
Wine and Cheese (Doodles)
This is a fascinating piece considering the impact of growing up among cultures – from the perspective of a mother wondering how this will affect her TCK children long term. Great reflections, and well worth a read!
“A recent conversation sucked me, feet first, into the black hole of expat doubt. And by doubt, I really mean: “What the hell is going to happen to my kids at the end of this experiment?”. . . They’re soaking in some weird cultural slop, made up of ingredients from our respective cultures, plus the one they live in, plus the stuff they pick up from living in an international community. And so here they are, teetering on this no-citizen’s-land, picking and choosing what they like and getting rid of the rest. Perhaps in an age when we’re increasingly recognizing gender fluidity, cultural fluidity is not far behind? When my kids go to the US for summer breaks, they morph and flow until they find a comfortable wavelength to inhabit. The same when they do when they reside in Denmark. Or when they go to the UK. A while back there was an excellent commentary about expats and immigrants and their life as a triangle; when you no longer fit where you came from, but not exactly where you live either. The more I think about it, the more I believe that triangle is too angular. It’s too rigid. Perhaps instead of a triangle it should be a wave, fluid and ever-changing. Culture, for my kids, is now a spectrum rather than a shape. It’s a wavelength they exist upon, altering as they see fit.”

Keeping Kids Safe
Expat Parenting Abroad
A short post raising an important topic: child safety. What conversations do you have with your children, to help keep them safe despite engaging in different cultures with different cultural norms – different lines for what is considered normal/appropriate behaviour?
“From the outset, let me just state that nothing sinister happened… but there is learning here nonetheless. . . Someone in a trusted position asked my children to keep something from me!!! Our girls, as you are probably well aware by now, have grown up in Asia spending most of their lives in India. And it is well reported, that girls don’t always receive the same respect in India as other countries and the rates of sexual abuse are quite high. When you live there, it’s reported daily in the local newspaper and more often that not the perpetrator is in a position of trust.”

What’s ‘culture’, anyway?
Tertiary
Really appreciated this little reflection on what culture is, and how it impacts our interactions with others. Dani asks good questions, and invites readers to engage with their own experiences.
“The uncomfortable part is that a lot of cultural indicators are subliminal: you might not even realise that you think or behave in a certain way, because it is so deeply ingrained in your experience of life. . . So it’s no wonder moving to a new country, or working in an international company, or marrying into another culture is so hard! We are all human, we are all valuable, and we all function more or less the same way, but we are all wired a little differently. Out cultures have gifted us with different perspectives and traditions and ways of being, and sometimes those cultures contradict. . . But here’s the key. Your culture is not right. It’s not wrong, by any means, but it is human and that means it’s complex. It means it’s changing, evolving, and adapting to the circumstances around it. The same goes for other peoples’ cultures.”

3 Ways to Improve Your Cultural Fluency
Harvard Business Review
And on the topic of culture, here’s an interesting piece looking at the importance of cross-cultural competency in a corporate setting. Good thoughts, and the lessons apply across many sectors.
“Doug worked with his coauthor Jane, a global leadership strategist, to learn how his behaviors reflected the culture in which he was brought up. He learned that his perspective was heavily influenced by being male and by his American-based value system. Doug had been interpreting situations based on his version of “treating people with respect” without a deeper understanding of how those behaviors landed with his audience. . . Over time, he discovered that people from different cultures (in and outside of the U.S.) interpreted his zealous approach as disrespectful. This discovery led to an ongoing exploration of how to shift his behaviors when engaging with colleagues from diverse backgrounds. After a few years, his cultural fluency in leadership visibly improved.”

Expat Story: “Less is More”
Expat Nest
This piece talks about essentialism – like minimalism but different. What are the things that are essential to you physcially, financially, and mentally? What makes your life easier and less stressful? A great idea when facing yet another international move.
“Like many expats, it sometimes feels like my life consists of moving… right now I’m on eight moves and counting! I don’t enjoy the process of moving, even if the end result is living in a great new country. Just the thought of putting every single thing I own, one by one into boxes, and then having to unpack each item again is daunting. Right before my most recent move, however, I discovered something that might seem scary at first, but that helped me through the packing process and even saved me money: essentialism – the little helper that makes the expat’s life easier. As opposed to minimalism, essentialism is all about owning the essentials, not owning as little as humanly possible. So please do not picture an empty white room!”

My Dearest Switzerland
Remfrey Educational Consulting
And to finish, a sweet little letter written by an expat to the country she lives in. This is a great exercise! Perhaps you might like to try it yourself…
“Switzerland, you have made us one of your own. We are truly and completely yours. We promise to continue to learn more about your culinary abundance. We will continue to discover more corners of your overwhelming landscape through hiking and skiing. And most of all, Switzerland, we will continue to enjoy your company every day.”

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”

The hidden currents of cross cultural education

Cross cultural schooling happens when a child’s education is conducted in a language their parent is not a native speaker of, or is based in a culture their parent did not grow up in.

There are several ways that this can happen. A family (whether local or expatriate) may enrol their child in an international school that follows the curriculum of a different country, or conducts classes in a language the parents are not familiar with.

When local families enrol in international schools, they create Educational CCKs (EdCCKs). EdCCKs live in their passport country but attend a school of a different language/culture. Educational CCKs cross cultures every day. They operate in one culture at home, and a different culture at school.

Alternatively, an expatriate family may enrol their child in a local school, in the local culture and language. (This was my experience as an Australian teenager in the US.)

22% of the 750 TCKs I surveyed for Misunderstood were educated in a language they did not speak natively; 7% were educated in a language their parents did not speak. Those figures double, to 40% and 15%, for TCKs who attended local schools.*

“I attended local school at a young age, and adapted well. Studies were more difficult compared to local students as my parents didn’t know the language – homework took longer etc. I did essentially keep up with the class for the two and a half years I was there.”
– Jeremy, as quoted in Misunderstood

There can certainly be linguistics difficulties when it comes to cross cultural schooling. Some families (and schools) do a better job than others at supporting students with this. Language is an aspect of cross-cultural education that is more obvious on the outside – but it is only part of the equation.

Adaptation to school culture

Schools teach more than academic information – they teach values and worldview. In a cross cultural educational setting the teachers and/or school administration may hold very different educational values than students or parents.

At the start, a new student must pick up a new school culture. In a cross cultural school, both obvious and hidden cultural expectations may be very different from the CCK’s last school. Over time, however, the child adapts to the school’s cultural expectations. And since the child spends more time in the school, and in its worldview, than the parents – a gap may begin to develop between parent and child.

The student may have to translate school expectations according to a parent’s different cultural expectations – even if they speak the school’s language.

Parents may be surprised by a child’s changing attitude, as they absorb elements of the school culture.

But these changes are natural, and perhaps inevitable. Cross cultural schooling means your child is being trained to see the world differently than you do.

Impact of cross cultural schooling on families

Many parents enrol their children in cross cultural schools for practical reasons. Perhaps there are no good school options in the family’s language/culture. Perhaps the family shares the schools values, even if they are not in line with norms of the family’s native culture. Perhaps the parents see the school as a pathway toward better educational and vocational options for their child. Whatever the reason, few parents are prepared for the long term impact cross cultural schooling will have on their family life.

Values are not always taught in obvious ways; often we simply absorb them as what is “normal”. Children in cross cultural education are absorbing more than academics when they are at school – they are absorbing values. Most children spend more waking hours in school than with their parents. In addition, if an expat they may not be exposed to their home culture at all in daily life outside the home. It’s possible that the school’s cultural values may become what feels most “natural” to the child.

Down the track, this can result in conflict between parent and child. Each judges the other according to their cultural values – and when the child has absorbed the cultural values of the school, this leads to a culture gap.

A child may perceive their parent’s expectations as unreasonable.
A parent may perceive their child’s actions as rebellious.
A child may perceive their parent as uncaring about their education – or too involved.
A parent may perceive their child as lacking in scholarly ambition – or outside interests.

These misunderstandings can lead to much heartache – both for parents and for their children. They stem from a parent judging the child by the parent’s cultural values – not knowing the child has been trained to see a different value system as the “norm”. This can be extremely frustrating for a child, who is only doing what their school has taught them to do in order to succeed.

So what next? I’m planning to write a series of posts considering different aspects of cross cultural schooling experiences. There is so much to consider! So stay tuned for more thoughts – and please, share your own, too.

Click here to read my advice to parents dealing with cross-cultural education

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.”