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”

Recommended reading catchup: December 2018

I recently realised that I never finished my “catch up” series of Recommended Reading – going back and sharing links I collected while I was sick. Since I’m currently travelling (and very busy!) I thought it would be a good time to share these great posts from December 2018 with you. Also, I realise that being a series of posts from December, several reflect on the holiday season and new beginnings. They’re still worth reading – even a few months later!

The Nightly Pilgrimage
TCK Town
Reflections on connecting with a place and its people through food. I recommend you don’t read this on an empty stomach!
“Leaving India was a strange mixture of relief and sadness. I had grown accustomed to the vibrancy of such a bustling country but looked forward to returning to quieter times. I would often catch myself reflecting on my stay and appreciating how I felt, to an extent, local even if it were only for those few weeks. The culinary experiences I had are something unable to be replicated without returning. Chennai’sfood without the context is just food; the people and surroundings completed it.”

The Intrepid Chef: Kaesta McFee [Muscat, Oman]
The Black Expat
The story of an expat chef with connections to many countries! Hear about his journey to where he is, and what he’s done along the way. Really interesting!
“If I was in Canada, I wouldn’t have the same experience. Food is a big part of it. In Singapore, you have Chinese, Malaysians, Indians and they brought all these foods and cultures with them. Singapore is such a hub for these different cultures. I could go on and on but just from Singapore, you could experience different meals. If you don’t enjoy [the country] while doing something you like to do, then maybe you’re not meant to be there.”

“Why we’re the kids that fit nowhere – and everywhere”
Grazia Middle East
I’m going to give you the first paragraph of this article, because if you’re anything like me, this alone will be enough to whet your appetite for more!
“Omar Tom, Reem Hameed and Mohamad Akkaoui – the voices behind the thought-provoking podcast The Dukkan Show – call themselves neo-bedouins. And tracking the journeys that brought them to Dubai, it’s easy to see why. “Neo means new, and bedouins are travellers and nomadic by nature, so have never really been one culture,” Omar – aka OT – explains. For the record, OT is Sudanese in origin, spent his early years in the UAE, and “thinks and speaks in English as a first language, even though it’s meant to be Arabic.” OT is joined on the show by fellow third-culture cohorts Manilla-born Reem – a Filipino-Iraqi who grew up in Baghdad, Kuwait and Canada – and Akkaoui, who was born in Abu Dhabi to Lebanese parents.”

The Privilege of Drinking Tap Water
What Expats Can Do
An expat reflects on the privilege of safe drinking water, from her experiences living in places where it isn’t readily available.
“I am very grateful to my life abroad in tough countries for teaching me things I would not have understood otherwise. I am privileged to be able to drink tap water now, but I am also privileged to have gone through the experience of learning what it means to live day by day with no healthy and safe running water.”

Why “Third Culture” Online Therapists are Excellent with Cross-Cultural Clients
Kyler Shumway
Clinical Psychologist Daniela Tomer shares a little about her journey to offering online sessons for clients in other locations. This is a growing trend, and a huge help for many TCKs and expatriates.
“Most of the global nomad clients who choose to work online are doing so because they can’t find a professional who can speak their language in their location. It is very understandable, crossing cultures is complicated enough; so, seeking for the comfort of communicating in your mother tongue is very natural… I embraced the online technique as the primary modality in my practice as opposed to my former preference of “in-person” coaching. And, when occasionally people seem to be confused with my accent and I am asked about my mother tongue, I answer: “It is complicated…. How much time do you have?” If they insist, I say: “I speak four languages, but I am most comfortable in the common language of the third culture, the language of the ones that moved around.””

Investing in Traditions That Travel Well
A Life Overseas
Another great Jerry Jones post, this time talking about how to create family traditions that travel well. While written in the context of Christmas, this is a really important skill for all expat families to learn, at all times of year.
“Traditions, for the expat (and the repat), are one of the great opportunities for something solid in a life which is otherwise incessantly marked by change. Adaptation is required to be sure. Adjustment is essential. You can’t do this without some tweaks and twerks and modifications but rock solid traditions are worth the investment. My family needs that. I need that. So I’m investing in a solid set of traditions (holiday and otherwise) that can remain constant here, there or anywhwere.”

Home For Christmas
A Life Overseas
Another post from A Life Overseas, this one a lovely reflections on Christmas and home, from the mother of a culturally complicated family.
“The concept of home is even more complicated in our little family of four as we span three continents by birth and nationality. We are a confused, but contented bunch. This Christmas will be our American son’s first Christmas in a western country since age three as well his first in England. It will be our four year old Chinese daughter’s first Christmas ever… There is so much good to experience this Christmas in England. Then in the New Year we’ll come home to Indonesia, another not-quite-fully-home where we currently live. In all the travel, in all the places we’ve lived, we did find home. Our mixed up and meshed together hodgepodge of cultures and experiences created our own unique family culture.”

Three Must-Have Goals for Expats in the New Year
World Tree Coaching
Jodi unpacks some simple practices behind the process of making and reaching the goals we set for ourselves. She talks about presence, values, and self compassion. Really helpful reflections!
“If we simply start making a list of things we want to do, it’s always seemed to me that our intentions will fizzle by the time March rolls around. We may lack direction or a deeper understanding of the why behind the goals we’re setting. This is exacerbated by the unpredictability of expat life. One little glitch can lead us astray. That being said, there are some goals that are universal. There are habits and intentions that we can bring into our lives that are foundational to creating the everyday, practical goals we hope to bring about in the New Year.”

Gift Guide for Third Culture Kids, 2018
Djbouti Jones
And finally, a bit late for this year but something to keep in mind for graduating TCKs soon! And I was very touched to see Misunderstood on the list of recommended books to give you TCK.

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?””

The power of the second year

I am now in my second year living in Beijing (again). More importantly, I am in my second year living in this particular apartment/neighbourhood. I’ve wandered our neighbourhood this Spring soaking in sunshine and enjoying beautiful flowers. And as I’ve done this, I’ve had a strange but wonderful feeling. I’ve thought to myself – “oh, I’ve done this before!” I enjoyed a particular blossom tree in a particular spot – and remember enjoying it last year. I stopped to look at a magnolia tree on the way to the shops – and remembered doing that last year.

Those feelings I’ve had are, in a nutshell, the power of the second year.

Some pretty second-year blossoms. Seeing them with that background of the striped smokestack against the blue sky gave me feelings of familiarity.

Some pretty second-year blossoms. Seeing them with that background of the striped smokestack against the blue sky gave me feelings of familiarity.

People often ask me how long it takes to adjust to a new place – how long will the transition last? Obviously there’s no hard and fast rule, and there are different stages of transition. But I usually say it takes a year and a half, and that at the start of the third year you find yourself feeling much more your normal self again. This is because of the power of the second year.

So – what do I mean by “the power of the second year”? Well, it’s the beauty of what I’ve been feeling lately – the wonderful sense of “oh, I’ve done this before!”

When you are adjusting to a change – whether you’ve started in a new school, moved into a new house, said goodbye to close friends, or experienced a change in your health – you will encounter a lot of newness.

Perhaps the space you live in, or work in, is new.
Perhaps the people around you are new.
Perhaps the foods you eat are new.
Perhaps your daily routine is new.
Perhaps the way you unwind is new.

The first day, week, and month are full of firsts. In fact, through the whole first year there will be firsts. The first time you celebrate Eid, Christmas, Diwali, New Year, or numerous other holidays that are important to you, in this new place or routine. The first time you mark your birthday in this new life. Even the first last day of school is a first!

It’s only in the second year that everything becomes familiar – everything has been done before.

Now, obviously there are many things you will have done multiple times during your first year. That’s why transition is a gradual process. The power of the second year is that nothing is new. You’ve been through it all before. You can see what’s coming because you’ve done it before. You start to get a feel for the rhythm of the year – you’ve been through the whole cycle so now you can begin to predict it.

The power of the second year is that you start to feel comfortable.

You start to find people who are comfortable, place that are comfortable, routines that are comfortable.

Instead of being hit by wave after wave of newness, you can see the waves coming. You might even start to surf them.

The power of the second year also explains why frequent transition (moving every 2-3 years) can be exhausting, frustrating – or even appealing.

Starting again takes time, energy, and effort. Some people find this absolutely exhausting. Some are totally frustrated by having to go through the process over and over. Perhaps you’ve felt both of those. (In either case, my six tips for a good transition may be helpful!)

When you transition frequently, you don’t have time to hit your stride before you have to leave again. You are never at your best because you’re always coping with a new routine – or preparing to leave and start again.

Some people, on the other hand, find all this new information, all the new experiences, all the newness of starting again with people and places, quite exciting! For them, the newness is interesting. For some, however, all that newness also means not having to learn how to connect deeply, with places or with people.

There are things to learn from and enjoy in our transitions.

There are things to learn from and enjoy about staying and settling into routine.

The power of the second year is that you have been around the block already. There are things you know, things you recognise. You don’t need to think so much about what to do in different circumstances because you already know!

Familiarity is a wonderful thing; it’s one of the elements that makes a place feel like home. So wherever you are in your transitions – whether first year, second year, twentieth year, or even your last year – it’s worth taking time to savour those moments of recognition and familiarity.

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.”

Listing countries

I am currently in South Korea, speaking at an international school in Seoul. This is my first visit to South Korea (despite having had many Korean friends and worked with many Korean TCKs over the years). Which means something exciting – I get to add a new country to my list!

Most people in international circles have a list. A list of countries they’ve visited. Everyone has different house rules – what counts? I’ve been part of many discussions where different rules were suggested and different situations debated. Lists went up and down in number with each decision agreed on. What can you put on your list? Can you count it if you land, but don’t leave the airport? What about if you leave the airport, but only to stay in a hotel overnight? What if you travel through a country on a train, but never step foot outside a train station? And yes, all those hypotheticals apply to me!!

Here’s my list, listed chronologically from first (non-debatable) visit, and skipping all repeats.

  • debated countries in [brackets]
  • + debatable countries that stamped my passport
  • * countries started out as debatable – but then I went back and visited properly!
  1. 1982: Australia
  2. 1983: USA
  3. 1994: UK
  4. 1994: France
  5. 1996: Canada
  6. 1996: South Africa
  7. 1999: China
  8. 2000: Malaysia
  9. 2001: Vanuatu
  10. 2004: [Japan]+
  11. 2006: [Hong Kong]
  12. 2007: Thailand*
  13. 2008: [Macao]
  14. 2009: Cambodia
  15. 2010: Vietnam
  16. 2010: Singapore*
  17. 2014: Laos*
  18. 2017: [UAE]
  19. 2017: Netherlands
  20. 2017: [Belgium]+
  21. 2017: Ireland
  22. 2018: [Portugal]+
  23. 2018: Czech Republic
  24. 2018: [Russia]
  25. 2018: [Qatar]
  26. 2018: Tanzania
  27. 2018: [Kenya]
  28. 2018: Sudan
  29. 2019: South Korea

Huh, now that I count up like this, looks like South Korea is my 20th non-debatable country! That’s a nice, round number. I personally think three of my debatables are close enough to count. Hong Kong and Macau returned to Chinese rule before I visited either of them, but they are still treated very differently to mainland China. And Belgium – well, I traversed the entire country by train, and I had my passport stamped as exiting the Schengen zone from Brussels. The rest were all airport visits. I technically left the airport in Japan, but only far enough to go to an airport hotel for the night. But I do have a passport stamp so a lot of my friends say it counts. So – that gives me a count of anywhere from 20-29, depending on your rules. I’m going to go with 23. Maybe 23.5?

Fitting that the only Australian stamp I can find in two Australian passports is when I left to move to China. Also - not the stamp from Brussels, Belgium! Total list of countries shown: China, USA, Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Tanzania, and Belgium.

Fitting that the only Australian stamp I can find in two Australian passports is when I left to really move to China. Also – note that I have a stamp from Brussels, Belgium! Total list of countries shown: China, USA, Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Tanzania, and Belgium.

I can’t decide if it’s more funny or sad that I’ve never been to any of the closest countries to Australia – Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and New Zealand. I’d swum in oceans around the world before I ever visited the south coast beaches of Australia, a 2-3 hour drive from “home” in Canberra.

What about you? What’s your number, list, and what are your “house rules” for counting countries?

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.”