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!””

Recommended reading: March 18th, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! I have some really interesting posts to share with you this week – thinking about international interaction with language, discrimination, grief, anger, and more.

The Myth of the Polyglot TCK
Cross Culture Therapy
I really appreciate this piece! It picks apart some of the misguided beliefs about TCKs and language skills. As I continue interviewing adult Third Culture Kids about their experiences, I’ve had a lot of conversations about language and the emotions connected to be able – or unable – to speak a certain language, and the guilt that often goes with lack of fluency. This piece underlines a lot of the practical realities that play into the whole topic.
“There is an urban legend of sorts that Third Culture Kids are preternaturally gifted with the ability of being fluent in multiple languages. I want to disabuse anyone and everyone of that romantic notion…Oftentimes, if a TCK is a “polyglot” (or “at least” bilingual), there is a great mismatch and gap between skills within at least one of their “fluent” languages. This is why there are grown adults who speak like little children, or have glaring knowledge holes (such as being able to speak intelligently about engineering but unable to order food), or are illiterate even though their speaking is relatively advanced…If you’re a TCK, don’t feel like you have to be (equally) fluent in two languages, never mind several.”

Channeling Anger into Better Relationships
TCK Town
Lovely piece about working through cross-cultural communication. The author contrasts Australian and Pakistani cultural and logistical systems, and the tension of expecting one and getting the other. I really appreciate the deep thinking and personal approach Danish applies.
“My understanding of anger was very much an Australian individualistic one, where the parts of the engine should be working seamlessly. Anything short of that, requires an overhaul, and befits anger, leading to entitlement. My experience in Pakistan showed that anger at a personal level solves little, at least when internalised and passed onto the person you’re interacting with. Better to channel that anger into building relationships and moving forward.”

An Adoptee’s Return: Lea Wright [Ethiopia]
The Black Expat
Powerful interview with a TCK born in Ethiopia and adopted by [white] American parents living there as expatriates, then repatriated to the US (where she’d never lived previously), and finally spent time in Ethiopia as an adult. I’m not going to say more – I’ll just implore you to go read this story for yourself!
“Everyone’s token black friend, I represented diversity in almost every situation. I was in majority white situations most of the time. It was kind of living in this balance of where they are telling me I have to be this Madea character, but they also don’t like black people. So how do you find the in-between? I think I always tried to scrub the black out of myself and push away my Ethiopian heritage to fit what other people needed because I could just sense that racial tension in almost every environment… . It was so restorative in ways I could not have imagined. Being back in Africa — it doesn’t even matter where. I felt my entire body just had the ability to [finally] breathe. The ability to blend in…I would’ve never considered. Nobody noticed that I’m different, which is so funny because we spend so much time in the States talking about what makes us unique and what makes you stand out. But for the first time, I didn’t standout and it was the most freeing thing I had experienced. It was powerful. It felt for the first time, I was being seen as Ethiopian.”

Expat Grief: When You Can’t Get Home in Time
Midwesterner Abroad
An emotive piece about the realities of living internationally – and the inevitable experience of long-distance loss. Includes some powerful personal stories, and also some helpful practical tips for how to cope.
“One of the realities of living a well-traveled life, and meeting and befriending people who are open to the world is having your heart fractured in a million different directions. You can never go home again, not completely, because home isn’t one place or just a few people anymore and no matter where you go, you’re leaving someone dear to you behind because you’re not the only one who’s moved away. Having everyone (or nearly everyone) important to you in one house, one town, or even on one continent becomes impossible. Seeing the world, and falling in love with other cultures is exhilarating, enriching, and worthwhile. But just like staying in one place—sometimes it’ll be hard, and sometimes VIPs will leave the game without your consent or approval, never to return.”

Language has become a tool for social exclusion
The Conversation
Fascinating article from last month highlighting the role of language in social inclusion/exclusion, and how this affects those of migrant and minoity communities. Language is how we access, well, everything! Lots of important issues raised and concerns articulated in a compact piece of writing.
“On the one hand, multilingualism is associated with mobility, productivity and knowledge creation…On the other, monolingualism (speaking only one language) is still perceived as both the norm and the ideal for an allegedly well-functioning society. Linguistic diversity is seen as both suspicious and costly… Language, held up as a sign of belonging, becomes a gatekeeper for inclusion/exclusion, regulating access to citizenship and education, health and legal protection. The responsibility for success or failure falls firmly on the shoulders of the “other” – the migrant, the minority member, the one who “does not fit in”.”

Raising Global Citizens
One & Only Blog
This post is from last December but I only came across it recently. In it the author gives a really helpful overview of raising her sons overseas, with the inherent challenges and opportunities. She responds to concerns others had about this lifestyle, and how it worked for her family. Great read!
“When my children were little, I heard many times that it would be irresponsible of me, a single mother of two, to follow my passion and take my kids to post-conflict places or countries in a permanent state of transition. And there were, indeed, some tough moments… Still, such extreme situations were rare. I always believed that I could make it work, and I learned how to make it work for myself and for the boys. Even though every time we moved, we had to start from zero, with each move it became easier to make practical arrangements that would give my children a sense of a stable “home”, wherever we were.”

Monday Morning Musings #39 – Being an International Woman
Monday Morning Emails
A lovely piece by the ever wonderful Jo Parfitt reflecting on being an international woman in different contexts – and what discrimination has and has not looked like in her experience.
“Sure, discrimination exists everywhere to a certain degree and unconscious bias makes the Dutch tend to hire tall people and drag queens look for roommates from the LGBT community. But nothing has affected me and prevented me from going for my dreams. These two films have made me realise, as International Women’s Day passed by last Friday, that I have had three decades living in freedom as an International Woman. I’m lucky. So lucky. I’m just saying. Just musing.”

10 Essential Expatriate Travel Skills
Djibouti Jones
And to finish, a fun-but-still-real piece on the different skills we acquire in different settings!
“I recently met a woman who heard I have lived in the Horn of Africa for sixteen years WITHOUT AMAZON PRIME. She figured that was probably the hardest thing about those sixteen years. If she only knew…”

 

Recommended reading: March 11th, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! This week’s typically eclectic mix covers TCK research history, boarding school, medical treatment overseas, and several pieces on grief. And don’t miss the last post I’ve highlighted – on the intersection of art and cultural heritage.

Globally Mobile Children: One Tribe or Many? (part 1)
Globally Grounded
I’m starting this week with an absolutely excellent post from Jane at Globally Grounded, looking at the history of experiences and terminology surrounding TCKs and CCKs. A perfect complement to my current series on intersectionality in CCK identities.
“Ruth recognized, regardless of nationality, sponsor or where they lived, TCKs and their families shared a culture of living outside their home, between nations or in between spaces and never being of the host country. She realized this as a culture, based on the shared experience and not geography, nation, ethnic group, race or nationality. “This was really hard for other sociologists to swallow because for a sociologist, a culture is based in a geography or skin color or something like that,” said Ann. Having identified and named this new tribe, Ruth then recruited a lot of people to do PhD research of TCKs. This was the first real body of research on this culture. It helped identify some of the characteristics that we recognize today.”

Third Culture Kids & Knowing a Place “well enough” to belong
Life Story Therapies
Something that’s already coming up in early interviews for my newest project is how to define concepts like home and belonging, and how important they actually are. As I’ve talked with adult TCKs around the world, we have stumbled on a number of words to help illustrate home – and familiarity is one of them. In this post, Rachel expounds on this idea beautifully.
“…perhaps a place becomes significant also by our sheer familiarity with it. While it’s both tempting and natural to align belonging entirely to emotional attachment, might the experience of belonging not simply be about feelings? Belonging to or having a sense of ownership of a place could also be about “knowing it well enough”. For Tanya French, this meant well enough to set a book in it. What does this line of thought do? For me, it opens up the meaning of belonging to place. Those places previously dismissed as less significant to my story suddenly gain in stature. I realise that what they may lack in terms of intensity of affection or cultural memory, they make up for in familiarity and geographical constancy. I know them. Not just the people and memories and experiences they hold. I know the streets, the tricks of light on the buildings, the weather cycles, the transport system! I know them well enough.”

Things I Would Not Say To A Boarding School Mom
Every Single Page
I really appreciate this post. In it a missionary mum discusses in detail what it means for their family that her children attend boarding school – how they came to the decision and how it looks for them practically. Parenting is no easy job! No matter where you are, the decisions you make affect your child’s future – and you have no guarantee that it will all work out. I especially appreciate her honesty in wrestling with how her children will potentially feel in the future. Mostly, I appreciate her openness and honesty with the fact that there are no easy answers.
“Being a boarding school mom is not something I talk a lot about online. Honestly, in part because I haven’t quite wrapped my brain around it yet. In part because in the year 2019, who tells other moms that this is the chosen educational route for your kids? What kind of family chooses this as a schooling option? Especially a family who loves homeschooling, unschooling, world schooling and adventuring together? I get asked a lot of questions about boarding school. I get asked how I’m doing, how are the girls doing, how did we make this decision, what impact has it had on our family. I also get comments and thoughts and opinions, said and unsaid, about boarding school, having our girls away from home and our journey raising third culture kids. For us, this decision did not come easy. It wasn’t something we planned for or happily chose. In fact, it was something I said I would NEVER do.”

Lawnmower Parents
April J. Remfrey (LinkedIn)
And now for a very different parenting post! This discussion of “Lawnmower Parents” and the temptation for a parent to control a child’s activity out of fear of is really interesting. While not necessarily specific to expats, I definitely see a lot of expat parents struggling with fears and anxieties over how international life will affect their children. Here’s the basic concept:
“A helicopter parent is an overprotective parent who discourages independence, hence hovering like a helicopter. A lawnmower parent is one that does whatever they can to clear all challenges from their child’s path, hence the lawnmower which mows down everything. Another way of helping your child rather than mowing down the difficulties for them is to offer two ways of helping: Idea Generator or Intervention Assistance. The question I always ask is this: “Would you like ideas on how to solve the issue or would you like my help intervening with the issue?” Most of the time, students will prefer that suggestions of solutions are given rather than the adult intervening.”

3 Reasons Why We Need to Talk About Grief
Sugi Says
I love this piece. Again, not expat/TCK specific, but so appropriate. Grief is a big part of transience – with every change, there is loss. Every friend who moves away, every home we leave, every person we can’t be closer to. In this short piece, the author builds a case for expressing grief, even though some cultures discourage this.
“I was built around the mentality that I have to be stronger, that I have to push harder. As I have grown older and experienced more losses, I have come to the conclusion that we will experience loss many times in our lives. Whether it’s the end of a friendship, a relationship, or the passing of someone you love, loss just follows us around like an itch we just can’t scratch. We all experience grief and loss in our own unique way”

Woman’s viral thread perfectly breaks down how grieving feels over time
Some eCards
Also on the topic of grief, this viral thread from twitter is doing the rounds. I love it – such an incredible illustration of why grief continues to pop up and again and again over time, long after we think we “should” be over it. After months, even years, of feeling fine – the grief hits, without warning. The illustration goes that grief is a ball, and pain is a button. When the grief is new, the ball is huge, and cannot move around the room of your life without hitting the pain button frequently. But through time and work, the grief lessens. The pain button is still there, and can still be hit by the ball, but as the grief shrinks the likelihood of it running into the pain button lowers.

Ghosts Know No Borders
Medium
And since we’re on the topic of grief, here’s a post I was recently reminded of. Originally posted on I Am A Triangle two years ago, it popped up on Medium two months ago and I thought it was worth mentioning here. In it Jodi Harris describes the way the grief of losing someone follows you around the world. The people you love and care about are part of your everyday life, even when they live – and die – on a different continent.
“Whether intentional or accidental, we escape a lot in this lifestyle. Sometimes it’s not all that bad to be far away. It gets comfortable to not have to deal, to be able to bail or to say — “Oh, it’s just so far. Not this year.” But we also miss so much we never thought we’d have to miss — death, funerals, hospice, chemo. But whether we stay or go, they find us. Ghosts know no borders. By intention or accident, they find us. But that works for us. Expats know how to deal with wandering. We know what it means to carry. To pack it all inside, to take it out again, to look one more time. To remember whenever and wherever you need to, in the corners and crevices of past lives and right now, so that the memory can follow you everywhere — because you’re everywhere. And now the people you’ve lost are everywhere too.”

The Challenges and Opportunities in Managing a Health Condition Abroad Part I
FIGT
A really helpful post about how different medical treatment can be for expatriates – and how those differences translate into extra stress. This is something I wrote a little about in a post on my personal blog, describing some of my experience going to a local hospital for treatment.
“…many expats and travelers, have little, if any, knowledge or information about the local healthcare system until they are faced with a crisis. The process, coverage, and payment protocols differ greatly from country-to-country, but we often make assumptions that our healthcare experiences will be similar to those in our native country (or our last country of residence). Regardless of the outcome, assumption and lack of knowledge add undue stress to an already stressful situation…Or rather, miscommunication, or misunderstandings with healthcare providers due to a language barrier or cultural differences in communication styles and expectations is a real roadblock. Even routine check-ups and screenings can be put off or missed altogether.”

Through Food Art, Asian-Americans Stop ‘Pushing Heritage To The Back Burner’
NPR
Finally, I’m finishing with something a little different. A post about the collision of food, culture, and art. This post shares the art and stories of three differnt Asian American artists who are connecting cultural identity through art that centres food. Great example of the power of art to express feelings and connect people. And some really lovely stories, too!
“Growing up in Central Jersey, Shih thought “you had to be white to be cool, and that being Taiwanese was inherently uncool,” she says. “I pushed my heritage to the back burner. Being [Asian] wasn’t something I was proud of.” … So in July 2018, Shih started sculpting [dumplings] out of porcelain…”I don’t know why, but it was meditative for me,” says Shih. “I fold them just how you make real dumplings. The only difference is that there isn’t anything inside.” … Wilson finds Shih’s ceramic dumplings “supremely comforting.” To her, they represent the Asian-American community — the pride in their cultures and the struggle to belong.”

Are immigrant kids TCKs?

Continuing my series of posts looking at commonalities and intersectionalities among Cross Cultural Kids, today I’m tackling a question I hear a lot: “are immigrant kids TCKs?”

I have been approached a number of times by people who immigrated as children, saying they really identified with a lot of the content in Misunderstood. Some really grabbed onto the vocabulary of being Third Culture Kids, even though they did not technically fit the description. I think this is largely because there is a similar but opposite dymanic happening for the immigrant kid and the TCK.

In both cases, the child is caught between two cultural influences and allegiances: the place in which they live, and the place from which their parents came (before or after having children). Both immigrant kids and TCKs experience the tension of differing expectations – which country is their “real” home? Which country are they really “from”? Questions from others – friends, family members, and strangers – can all add confusion and a sense of pressure.

Both immigrant kids and TCKs have dealt with living between these different countries, cultures, and expectations. There is a great deal of emotional resonance between their experiences. And yet, they are not the same. Children of immigrants, and child immigrants, are absolutely Cross Cultural Kids – they belong to the wider umbrella of cross cultural childhoods. But there is a distinct difference as well, so I would not call immigrant kids TCKs. (Although there is definitely a segment of Cross Cultural Kids who are both TCKs and also immigrant kids.)

But this is an example of why I think it’s so important to shift the conversation to discussing Cross Cultural Kids generally, not just TCKs. The overlaps in the experiences of Immigrant Kids and TCKs are real, the resonance in their emotional landscape is real. It means that resources ostensibly for TCKs may be really useful for some immigrant kids, and resources ostensibly for immigrant families may be really useful for some expatriate families. Widening our view of what it means to grow up cross culturally allows for the inclusion more people, and for connection between more people through shared experiences.

Now, in this example, how can understanding the similarities between the experiences of immigrant kids and traditional TCKs (without ignoring the differences) help both groups?

Both immigrant kids and traditional TCKs share the conflict of expectation to connect to their parents’ cultures, while living in a different culture.

This means many can identify with each other’s similar struggles in this area, such as accusations of “betraying” one culture by attaching to the other (and perhaps vice versa).

Both immigrant kids and traditional TCKs bridge the two cultures (the parents’ culture and the host culture) due to their parents’ decisions on behalf of the family.

This means many can identify with each other’s feelings about being born/brought into a situation of cultural complexity beyond their control.

And, as with all Cross Cultural Kids, both immigrant kids and traditional TCKs share the experience of navigating lives of cultural complexity – with all the innate pros and cons that come with it.

There are limits to the overlaps in their experiences, however. An immigrant kid has legal status in the country where their family now lives. A Third Culture Kid, however, generally lives in a country they know they will leave, and may not have the option to stay. This “unrequited love” is a feeling immigrant kids may well be able to deeply sympathise with, but do not share.

Both may share the experience of being seen as “foreign” in a place they love and are very familiar with – but Third Culture Kids don’t often deal with being seen as “foreign” in a country that legally recognises them. (Unless they have the intersectional cross cultural experiences such as being part of a minority group, etc.)

These differences mean it is also important to recognise the distinctiveness of their different cross cultural experiences. In Misunderstood I collected the experiences of a wide range of TCKs – different parents’ work (missionaries, foreign service, corporate, educators), different schools (international school, local school, boarding school, homeschool) and different experiences of transience (a long time in one country, frequent moves, first move happening in high school). It was important to recognise the distinct differences in these different types of Third Culture experiences. But it was also helpful to express their commonalities.

In the same way, while immigrant kids and traditional TCKs are distinct experiences – they are not the same – the commonalities they share as Cross Cultural Kids are real and worthy of recognition. If an immigrant kid finds TCK resources like Misunderstood helpful – fantastic! That’s great to hear. The more resources available, the better. But I also hope to see more resources developed for Cross Cultural Kids generally that will openly include the wider and more nuanced range of experiences that exist among CCKs.

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

Recommended reading: March 4th, 2019

Welcome to another edition of Recommended Reading!

Meeting the Emotional Needs of TCKs
Lauren Wells (LinkedIn)
This post not only contains incredibly helpful advice for parents on how to meet their TCKs’ emotional needs, it also gives the best summary I’ve seen for why this is so important – especially since so many of the parents I talk to are so loving and caring and trying so hard. I could quote the whole post to you – it’s that good! Please read it – starting with this explanation on that all important why:
“The challenge that I often run into when discussing the topic of “unmet needs” with parents of TCKs is that they, most often, are wonderful parents who have done a fantastic job of meeting their children’s emotional and physical needs and therefore, they don’t think that this will be an issue. Unfortunately, I believe that this contributes to why the issue of “unmet needs” is so prevalent among TCKs. During high-stress seasons (such as transitions to and from living overseas), the children’s need for emotional support goes up while their parent’s mental and physical capacity to meet their children’s needs (and even their own!) goes down. This often results in stressed-out parents who have children with unmet emotional needs. Even the most fabulous, attentive parents can run into this challenge if it is not consciously combatted.”

Jakarta Transitions
Third Culture Thoughts
In this piece a young adult TCK muses on coming “home” to a place that both does and doesn’t feel like home. There is familiarity, and nostalgia, but also the knowledge that time has changed both person and place. I also appreciate the way different aspects of transition are parsed – not just place, and language, but changes to both work routine and social life. A great snapshot of a well-examined life in transition.
“While some areas of Jakarta have changed a lot, some haven’t too much. Even little subtle things, like phrases, body language, and mannerisms just feel good to recognise. At the same time, I’m also a different person coming back here, and the way I grew up here wasn’t exactly normal. Growing up as an expat kid means that your exposure to the culture around you is mixed and can vary a lot. When I went to the US later, people would sometimes try to figure me out and assume that 14 years should be enough to determine my sense of identity, but I knew very well that I didn’t really qualify. Today, I know that any sense of identity that isn’t a legal nationality is really just up to you, but I can definitely say that while there are ways that Indonesia feels like home, there are also ways it doesn’t.”

About the Sexual Abuse of Third Culture Kids, Resources and Way Too Many Links
Djibouti Jones
I was so pleased to see this list of resources that Rachel put together. It is so sad that a list like this is needed but, oh – is it needed! As I’ve mentored and interviewed TCKs over the past decade and more, I have heard so many stories of abuse – physical abuse, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, emotional abuse. Too often TCKs are extra vulnerable, because they’ve been told they must behave in order to protect their parent’s work and the family’s ability to stay in their host country. Or they may be linguistically, culturally, or geographically isolated from support and resources they might have access to otherwise. This is an excellent starting place – a lot of different resources to help different people in different situation. I was also humbled to see Misunderstood given a place on such an important list.
“I’m not saying mental illness and abuse necessarily go together, but that there is a lot of brokenness and grief that isn’t often addressed well in the world of expatriates. TCKs face this in unique ways, sometimes by nature of living in the home of their abuser at boarding school, sometimes leaving a country before resolution has been found, sometimes having no safe place or safe person to tell. There are so many goodbyes, so many losses, so many fears and insecurities. There is so much vulnerability and hunger for belonging.”

The Unspoken Swiss Trust
April J. Remfrey (LinkedIn)
A lovely little article illustrating a particular cultural difference: trust. How much do you trust strangers/fellow citizens to do the right thing? A small question, it might seem, but April illustrates beautifully how differently trust can operate in different cultural settings.
“After much thought, reflection, and dinner conversations, my husband and I have decided that trust is the most noticeable difference between our home country of the United States and Switzerland. One trusts that their neighbor is going to put their garbage in the correct shared receptacle. One trusts the people walking down the street to watch out for small children on the sidewalk.”

When to live inside your comfort zone
Stephanie Johnson Consulting
This post asks questions without offering much of an answer – and I love that! It’s an invitation to sit with the tension of “comfort zones” and whether to stick in them or run away from them. There is so much advice about leaving our comfort zones – and so much to learn by doing so. And yet comfort is not an enemy in and of itself. I often feel a guilt about the comforts I cling to – and I know I’m not the only expat to feel that! But over time I’m learning the balance I require. What about you – where do you find your own balance?
“After a year of dealing with a serious medical issue and a move to a new country, I find myself wanting to claw my way back to a comfort zone in order to re-establish a sense of equilibrium. Yes, I have changed. Yes, I have grown, but I’m ready for some sameness and consistency for a while, thank you very much. I’m not advocating for a life in which you constantly say within your comfort zone. This would be hypocritical of me to say the least. But we have to remember that change and challenge need to happen at the right time and in the right way, whenever possible. A life filled with constantly living outside your comfort zone would be chaotic, anxiety producing and disruptive. We have to make sure we don’t fall for the illusion that, by constantly challenging ourselves, we will reach a state of self-actualized bliss. We can make meaning of our lives now regardless of how exciting or mundane they are.”

What Does It Mean to Be a Canadian Citizen?
The Atlantic
This piece raises a big question: what does citizenship mean? In this post the context is voting rights, and whether those living outside their country of citizenship longterm (and not paying taxes) should maintain the right to vote. What one thinks about the specifics, and the author’s particular views, are less important to me than the fact that these questions are asked and pondered. It’s something I ask a lot of the ATCKs I’m interviewing: what does their citizenship mean to them?
“What does it mean to be a citizen? Is citizenship a kind of subscription service, to be suspended and resumed as our needs change? Are countries competing service providers, their terms and conditions subject to the ebbs and flows of consumer preference? Edmund Burke long ago articulated an ambitious vision of society as a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Does any of that still resonate? Or is it a bygone idea of a vanished age, dissolved in a globalized world?”

Mixed Up: ‘People try to guess my ethnicity – they always guess wrong’
Metro
I’m finishing this week with another post from Metro’s Mixed Up, a series looking at the highs, lows and unique experiences of being mixed-race.” There is a LOT in this post that reflects stories I’ve heard from TCKs of mixed heritage. A person with mixed heritage is another sort of Cross Cultural Kid, so there are definite overlaps worth exploring.
“For many mixed-race people their ethnic ambiguity can be the source of much scrutiny. It can become quite a burden having to spell out your heritage to people. And there is a difference between curiosity and ignorance. ‘I started to notice that pretty much every day I would have to be explaining to someone what my ethnicity was – or people would try to guess, and they would always guess wrong,’ Lara tells us. ‘The only people who ever really guess right are Asian people. But they normally assume I am Indian, they never ask if I am mixed. I get all sorts of guesses – Venezuelan, Turkish, Greek, Spanish – it annoys me. I know I do look quite ambiguous, but I don’t like the fact that there is no acknowledgement. Even the people who will say – “oh I just thought you were white” – it completely erases my real identity… In the context of race, privilege is a complex concept. It seems to be that the closer your proximity to whiteness, the more privilege you have. But when you’re mixed, where do you fit on that scale? ‘As a mixed-race person you never get your white privilege,’ argues Lara. ‘You’re always seen as “other”, so you might not identify with the non-white side of your family, but you can never be seen as white. You can never get the privileges that come with that.”

Cross cultural intersectionality

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

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

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

TCK + Mixed cultural/ethnic heritage

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

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

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

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

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

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

TCK + Immigrant

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

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

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

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

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

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

TCK + Cross-Cultural Adoption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended reading: February 25th, 2019

I haven’t been feeling well the last few days so today’s Recommended Reading is a little later that usual, and a little lighter on curated descriptions. I’ve compensated with longer quotes from the excellent pieces I’m linking to. Which serves the double purpose of not requiring me to cut them down! There is some wonderful writing in this selection, from the perspectives of TCKs and CCKs, and helpful practical advice on supporting them well.

Raising Empathetic Third Culture Kids
Connecting the Pieces
Excellent short piece on why it’s important to develop empathy and practical ways parents can help children. Great advice and well worth your time.

Good Grief: Helping TCKs Navigate Their Unresolved Grief
Taking Route
In this piece a TCK beautifully articulates the grief of leaving your international home, and the confusion of not really knowing what it is you’re going through. Lots of great tips for supporting TCKs through these kinds of experiences.
“And then, suddenly, before I was ready, graduation happened and I left. Not only that, but my parents also moved away that same summer. In the Fall, I found myself in a whole new, completely foreign world: college in America…What I didn’t have words for at the time, and I didn’t even fully realize until several years later, was that what I was dealing with during that lonely season of transition was grief. And what I had been doing was not actually dealing with it, maybe because I just didn’t realize that that’s what was going on, or because I didn’t know how to or that I was allowed to. I knew I had moved, obviously, and knew I had left my home and wouldn’t even be going back at Christmas, but I didn’t really comprehend the full spectrum of all that I had lost.”

A Cracked Mug – Memories & Loss
Communicating Across Boundaries
Another beautiful and emotive piece from Marilyn, this time reflecting on how a seemingly insignificant material object can hold so many memories and emotions. We really need to create more space for this, to acknowledge that possessions can be very meaningful, especially when making decisions about what to pack! That goes double when making those decisions on behalf of someone else, like a child. “Little” things can carry a lot of comfort, and security.
“To see that mug crack made me feel all of life’s cracks and broken pieces. I felt all over again the hurt of goodbyes and the long process of new hellos. I felt the intensity of starting anew and the difficulty of keeping up friendships faraway. I felt the sting of misunderstanding and cultural adjustment. I felt the sadness of living between worlds, the diaspora blues of being – “too foreign for home, too foreign for here, never enough for both”*. I felt the emptiness of lost friendships and the scars of ruined relationships. All of this came over me as I surveyed the spilt coffee and the cracked mug. I felt so, so sad.”

TCK Stories – TCKs & The Imposter Syndrome by Emi Higashiyama
Cross Culture Therapy
Great story from a TCK unpacking the complexities of her intergenerationally cross-cultural background, and how this impacts the way she relates to others.
“I went to a K-12 American school (disguised as an international school), and for one reason or another, it seemed like my only choices for university would have been in the US. I didn’t speak Chinese growing up. I’ve spent the majority of every year of my life in Taiwan, but to me it’s not home. I grew up speaking Japanese but never learned to read it. I’ve never lived in Japan, but I’m “from” there, so when I go there I feel like I’m a broken citizen. I’m so freaking fluent in English but nobody believes it’s NOT my second language because I don’t have matching passports or residences. In every culture, I feel at least a little bit like an impostor because I can’t confidently pass the inherent checklist of what it means to be completely of any one culture. I always feel like I have to justify myself or qualify myself in nebulous terms that monocultural people have never even thought about (because they never had to).”

‘Where are you from?’: How I turned my heritage into a game of self-protection
SOAS Blog
Excellent piece unpacking some of the difficulties inherent in revealing a mixed heritage background. Answering questions can be problematic – because the questions themselves are often problematic. So instead of asking questions, perhaps we ought be listening instead – and reading this post is a good place to start.
“Call it what you want; biracial, mixed-ethnicity, mixed-race, ‘ethnic’, the idea that people who are a blend of races, ethnicities or nationalities are somehow more fascinating, or more ‘trendy’ is pretty problematic. Here’s a little break down of what is going through my mind when the entire conversation descends into a discussion about where I come from: First of all, I am neither an imported fruit nor a mystical creature in a zoo, so comments about how rare or ‘exotic’ I am, and how new and exciting that is for everyone, implicitly suggests that I’m too different to belong. I understand that it is an unusual mixture to you, but to me it’s all I have ever known, it is natural and familiar and yet still something I have to condense into soundbites because here I am, explaining it to a stranger for the fifth time this week.”

Reconciling Heritage and Hope Between Chicago and Mexico
New York Times
A lovely article on taking time to recognise and integrate the different pieces of a cross cultural childhood – even when others don’t understand the need to do so.
““We worked our lives to be here and you decide to go back to what we left behind?” he recalled his father asking him. “It was hard for me to explain what I needed was peace. I needed to reflect on what happened in my life.”… His time in Mexico helped him understand his parents’ sacrifices and their worries over his plans to be a photographer. But it also reminded him of what life is like growing up between two places and cultures where one never fully fits in.”

Here’s how to pronounce my name, and why it matters to me
CBC
I’ve shared a few posts in the last year about the identity of name – when we change our names to fit in and why it matters when someone says our name correctly. I’m planning to come back to this topic another time – and it’s also coming up in interviews for my latest project. So here’s a helpful recent piece on the subject:
“Sometimes, people sidestep the problem by avoiding saying my name altogether. I’ve been referred to as “her” in front of a group of coworkers. I use my Western middle name at coffee shops to expedite the ordering process. And more than once, people have asked if they can just call me by a made-up name of their choosing. A name, however, can carry great cultural and personal significance. Names should be said and treated with respect.”

CCKs: Cross Cultural Kids

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

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

cckmodel_thirdculturekids_pollock-vanreken-1.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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