Recommended Reading: June 25th, 2018

Welcome to this week’s edition of Recommended Reading! This week includes posts that capture a range of expressions of the inner conflict that comes with living between places, languages, and people.

This Man’s Twitter Thread About Being A Young Immigrant In America Is Incredible
Distractify
The writer of this post, a child of immigrants, reflects on an experience shared by a Korean immigrant. The series of tweets telling the story are explained and expanded in a helpful way. As a newly arrived immigrant child, this person was in a science class that was taking a quiz (which he wasn’t expected to complete). He knew the answers – but not in English. There are so many valuable reflections here on what it means to be new, to feel incompetent and stupid because you can’t be the articulate and smart part of yourself in a new language and culture. Most expats and immigrants have felt this; that experience should compel us to grace and kindness to anyone going through it – no matter where we are. The best part of this story, however, is what happens after that moment of frustration. I won’t spoil it. Go read it for yourself – it’s worth it!

How to Make – and Keep – Expat Friends
Wine and Cheese (Doodles)
A wonderful post on navigating the difficulty that is balancing friendships around the world. How do we keep making new friends, and maintaining them, with all the change going on? Lots of great stuff, but I particularly like what she says about knowing that while you can maintain a friendship long distance, it will be different:
When you’ve moved on or have friends that have, the original bond that held you together, being in the same place at the same time, is broken. You’re not experiencing the same endless shitty winter or worries about math class together. . .Your conversations will flow differently because you’re experiencing different things. . .But that doesn’t mean the friendship can’t or won’t survive. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that expat friendships can’t – or shouldn’t – evolve. They can.

Why international days and celebrations are difficult for true internationals
Expat Since Birth
Ute does a wonderful job explaining the inner conflict that “international days” (as celebrated at many international schools) can stir up. For some TCKs I know, these are the days they are dressed up in clothes that represent their parents’ country of origin. For others, there is the stress of which country to dress up as. For still others, there is the conflict of knowing which country they are expected to represent, but feeling much more connected to somewhere else.

Returning Home
Velvet Ashes
In this post missionary wrestles with the concept of home – what happens when you have added another place to your heart? While not everyone will identify with the author’s Christian worldview, her reflections on the tension of “home” are poignant:
I can’t go home…because I have more than one. Someone else has said, “Home is where the heart is.” Where is my heart? Is it in the states with my family? Yes. Is it here in Germany? Also, yes. . .Returning to the states for good would mean giving up everything here – leaving the home I have built here. I do love my home here. But returning here after a visit home to the states means leaving my family, the people I care about most. Home will always be where my family is. But home is also the life I have built here.

Is cultural knowledge more important than language skills?
BBC
This is a really interesting piece, considering the impact of linguistic fluency and cultural fluency for expats in different parts of the world. There are a lot of vignettes from expats all over the place, but no sweeping conclusions. The general theme seems to be that for short term living, speaking the basics of a language are enough. But to really adapt long term, both cultural understanding and fluency of local language are important.

Saying Goodbye… Advice For Expat Teachers On The Move
Intentional Learning
On the surface this is a short post with good advice about leaving well – like many others. But there is one point in it that stood out to me and made it worth mentioning: “Thank the ‘lead locals’ in your life. As expats we come and go, but how intentional are we in expressing our thanks for the hospitality (and tolerance!) shown to us by those whose country it is in which we live?” I suspect for too many of us this isn’t the top of our list of things to do when leaving, especially those of us deeply engaged in expatriate communities. Definitely worth a second thought…

Third Culture Kids – Stone and Water Work
Life Story
In this piece Dr. Rachel Cason uses the metaphors of stones and water for work that we do in order to process our lives. The image is of a bowl of coloured stones in water. The stones are all the pieces of self to be identified and expressed. The water is the space in which those pieces are heard – equally important, but easily overlooked. This is why I talk a lot about the importance of TCKs having space in their lives – space to work out who they are. Without this space, there is no way to process all the pieces.
Water work is the piece of work that allows the stones to be heard… it is the precursor of active sorting out and shaping, it is active stillness. . .Water work is the part of therapeutic work that is often the most challenging. The stone work feels more pressing, more active, more ‘doing’. But the water work is where we learn about our selves

5 stages of adapting to your new country’s culture when studying abroad
Study International
To finish up, I’m sharing this lighter piece outlining common stages students go through during a study abroad program. Expats in general may well recognise these! And a few silly GIFs never hurt anyone ;)

 

Recommended Reading: June 18th, 2018

Welcome to this week’s edition of Recommended Reading! The posts I’m recommending this week concern parenting. I think it’s worth pointing out that posts about parenting aren’t just for parents. They have lessons to offer others, too. A lot of these posts aren’t specifically for expats, but they have a lot to speak to the expat experience. I’m not a parent myself, but I often find that parenting posts have a lot to offer me, too. They help me understand parents’ perspectives, and as I work with young people a lot that is helpful too, but they also can have helpful messages for me personally in my own situation. Each of these posts are worth reading no matter what your individual situation is.

Two Challenges That Homeschooling Families Face on the Field
A Life Overseas
I love this post by Elizabeth. She starts with a quote and idea from the homeschooling section of Misunderstood, then expands and explains it beautifully. Honestly, if I ever release a revised edition of Misunderstood I’ll probably want to quote this article in a revamped homeschooling section! I thought this quote was particularly telling:
I had sufficient time to home school, I felt equipped to home school, and I wanted to home school. We still needed more support than we had been receiving.”

A Sense of Home: Raising International Children With Irish Hearts
Huffington Post
I had a bittersweet feeling as I read this post. I appreciate so much the work of parents like these to help their children connect to their heritage country. I love that this mother recognises the power of experiences, sights and sounds and tastes, to create a sense of home. I love that she recognises that “home” is multi-faceted for her international children. But I can’t help but hope that she also knows that the oh-so-important experiential connections she is fostering between her children and her homeland will be different to hers. I hope she understands that yes, she is ensuring her children “will always know that they are Irish and that Ireland is their home“, but that this might mean something very different to them. It’s such a tricky balance! TCKs benefit so much from strong experiential connections to their heritage cultures, but at the same time, those connections don’t add up to the same experience as growing up in that one place.

10 Things to Expect When You Take TCKs “Home”
Taking Route
I really appreciate this insightful and sensitive piece by Emily Jackson – and it is an appropriate follow on from the post I just mentioned. Emily writes about what happens inside TCKs when they go “home” to a passport country they haven’t lived in for a long time. Everything on the list is good, but number 3, “Pop-up Processing”, really stood out to me:
“They were probably too young to form it into words when it was happening, or it was so much a part of their everyday life that they never stopped to think if they liked it or not. Once you’re out of the culture a bit, those thoughts and emotions have a chance to bubble up and get processed, and might pop out when you’re least expecting them.”

The transition we travelers rarely talk about
Lola Akinmade
Award winning travel photographer Lola Akinmade discusses the struggle to balance the need to travel with the need to spend time with family. She comes to a lovely conclusion – that travel is about attitude to place, and that this attitude of curiosity and discovery can be applied wherever we are, on short trips and during long stays: “Wherever I find myself for extended periods of time. I don’t just exist in a place. I need to get beneath it, understand how it flows culturally, and learn from it. I don’t just quietly exist in Sweden. I explore it deeply.

Be Fearless! Pass On Your Heritage Language and Culture To Your Children
Multicultural Kid Blogs
As I travel and speak to parents in different countries, I am frequently asked about engaging children in the parents’ language/s. Some worry that this could be a hindrance to their kids. Others are disappointed in their kids’ lack of interest in learning a heritage language. The main piece of advice I give is that it always helps for kids to have access to their heritage languages (looking back they may regret not learning them, or may try to go back to them) but forcing a child to study something against their will always backfires. Therefore, the best thing you can do is find ways to make the language part of family life. This post is a great encouragement to parents who want to engage their kids linguistically, but feel unsure of how to do this. Amanda “Miss Panda” gives lots of simple, practical advice. She also points out that language is not just language – it is about culture, about ways we connect to a cultural community. Helping your child absorb a language is about so much more than the words you speak.

Should I Stop Speaking my Native Language with my Children?
Bilinguistics
And on that subject, this article lays out a lot of research related to bilingualism in children, aimed at giving solid advice to parents who are worried about the impact of language on a child’s development. Lots of references to different research in the area – fantastic resource!

Expat parents in Belgium: how to help your children with homework when you don’t speak the language
Expatica
For many families, the choice to live internationally means children will not be educated in the family’s home language. This can add an extra stress to parents who feel ill-equipped to help with their kids’ school work. This stress can also build up over time, as students begin to do more advanced reading and writing, with linguistic quirks beyond the parents’ grasp. This article is based in Belgium, but the concepts and advice offered are applicable beyond Belgium.

Parents, Know Thyselves In Your Child’s College Admission Process
Forbes
While the article itself is not expat/TCK specific, this is an important topic for a lot of expats. There is a high expectation that TCKs will go to university, often in different countries (where parents are less familiar with the system). Both TCKs and their parents can feel a lot of pressure to apply to (and attend) the “best” schools. This article has some good tips for parents about how to engage with the college application process – and how not to. Advice includes working with (not against) guidance counsellors, and stepping back to allow kids to own the process, and the decision making. I found this quote particularly helpful:
It all comes down to trusting that you’ve done your job as a parent up to this point. Of course, you’ll have doubts and worries, moments of panic and a sense that you’re losing control of your student. And in a genuine sense, you are, but not chaotically, just in the natural process of separation.

Recommended reading: June 11th, 2018

Three weeks of Recommended Reading in a row! Quite an achievement, wouldn’t you say? I am definitely enjoying getting into a rhythm of reading and writing, starting to feel more at ease in my new life. Not to mention my new workspace (having not really had one for most of the last six months), and my new computer (the previous one having been dropped or stepped on or *something* during the wedding week craziness back in February). But back to the topic at hand – some great posts about TCKs and expat life that have inspired, challenged, or otherwise interested me lately.

Embracing the Good in Goodbye
TCK Town
I’m starting with a lovely little piece on saying goodbye – always relevant, but especially at this time of year. Solène expresses the different layers of goodbyes, which she calls: “an inherent part of living beyond borders. Goodbye to a place that was home for a while. Goodbye to the people who brought it to life. Goodbye to a version of yourself.” In her advice on goodbyes she recommends we reflect on time and treasures – both the experiences, and the physical tokens. Farewell people and places and experiences, and embrace the emotions. “I couldn’t help but be temporarily overwhelmed.” Then look forward to the future – future plans, future adventures, and even future reunions.

Top 10 ways to help your students say goodbye
Valérie Besanceney
Valérie is always amazing; she’s my go-to resource when thinking/talking about how to support primary school TCKs. This Top 10 list is a great example of why. It’s written with teachers in mind but there is good stuff here for everyone. I particularly love her first and last points. First – “comfort rather than encourage“. I talk about this concept a lot. When a child is upset we want to make them feel better – but we cannot ‘fix’ the changes they are experiencing. The best thing we can do is listen, offer comfort for how they feel, not try to jump in immediately with encouragements they aren’t ready to hear (even if they’re true). And Valerie’s last point: to reach out to those who have left a few months after their departure. As she writes, “Let them know you do care, that they are remembered, and that they matter. You are likely to make a much bigger difference than you imagine.

Mother’s Day from Miles Away
Thoughts Of A Third Culture Kid
I know Mother’s Day (for the US and Australia, at least) was a month ago, but this post is not to be missed. In it Adri reflects on the difficulty of being far from family on special occasions: “I put on a big smile and partook in festivities from this great distance, but internally, it utterly devastated me to not be there“. But what makes this post really special is that she goes on to discuss the importance of letting us feel those feelings – that it is valid to miss family far away, even though life is good and we are doing well. This is such an important message for TCKs, and I think for all expats as well. Here’s a bit of her great take on this:

Sometimes I get tired of looking at things with optimism. I think it’s okay for people to just feel how they feel and not be pressured to feel anything other than whatever emotion holds them hostage in that moment. We need to normalize the release of emotions, validate them and let people thaw out in their own time. If my job (that I adore) has taught me anything, it’s to let the pressure gauge release slowly. It’s healthy, actually. See, I miss my family every day, and that’s okay. I am still a high-functioning adult with responsibilities, job security, building a network, being social, trying to do my best on a daily basis. And because of that, I get to be tired and upset on days like this because it’s normal to not be okay one hundred percent of the time.

5 PCS Strategies for Navigating the Space Between Leaving and Arriving
InDependent
Jodi Harris of World Tree Coaching (who also featured in last week’s Recommended Reading) does a great job here of pointing out positives in the space in between leaving and arriving. As she writes, “It’s an incredibly unique place of limbo and it can feel daunting and overwhelming.” I love all her tips, but I must admit I found the last one challenging and therefore a bit uncomfortable. I need to get comfortable with ambiguity? It’s okay to not know everything? Noooo!!! Good to know I still have more to learn, hey? For my own sanity I’m going to leave that aside for the time being, and instead share with you my favourite piece of advice from this post: “Transition is not the time to go it alone. We’re not strong and resilient because we don’t reach out and ask for help, we’re strong and resilient because we do.”

If You Had a Few Weeks to Live, Where Would You Go?
Communicating Across Boundaries
Yet another week finds me reflecting on something beautiful penned by Marilyn Gardner. This time she is reflecting on a difficult question: if you had a few weeks to live, where would you go? She points out that for many people who, for many reasons, live in between lives, “Merely asking the question can make one anxious. How can I pick one place?” She mentions different people who have pointed to a single place, but then takes her readers on a sensory journey, a tour of the places that have shaped her and still speak to her: “even when given a limited time period, I can’t pick just one place. I still choose to live between. At the deepest core, I am a nomad who can’t contain the worlds within, nor would I want to. The exercise shows me that I would not choose any other life or any other way, and my heart fills with gratitude. I am too fortunate.”

25 Things They Don’t Put in the Life Abroad Brochure
A Life Overseas
Hmmm, I seem to be developing a pattern. That’s three repeat authors in one post – albeit writing in different places! But really, Marilyn and Jerry write so much great stuff so consistently, we should probably all be following them by now anyway. But, back on topic, and there’s no way I can sum up this latest list from Jerry, with his characteristic blend of comedy and right-to-the-heart reality. So instead, here are a few of my favourite points from the list:

1. Some days the most adventurous thing you’ll do is wash dishes.
5. You should embrace ignorance
12. Foreign people can be irritating
13. You’re the foreigner now
19. You can love two places
22. You’re probably going to act like an idiot

Mo! Sibyl: A Tale of Two Countries – Between Nigeria & South Korea
Bella Naija
In this interesting post Nigerian expat Mo’lanee Sibyl looks at South Korea’s development path and how that could work for Nigeria. But what I appreciated most was the way the author began by explaining her perspective. These reflections come following a recent visit to Nigeria, which brought the Nigeria she carries with her everywhere into conflict with the Nigeria she saw in real life: “I tend to adopt a romantic approach to talking about Nigeria, conflating her positives and almost very selectively leaving out the negatives. For those Nigerians like me, reality sets in when we make the sojourn back home.” I think this is something many expatriates find ourselves doing. She also makes an insightful comment about how return visits affect our thinking: “Returning to Nigeria after my protracted absence meant that everything I saw was magnified, especially her social issues, because I now had a base reference to make comparisons.” Experiencing other cultures in action gives expats a “base reference” by which to see our own cultures from the outside, to see other possibilities, because we now know life can be lived another way.

The Content Creator: Ayana Wyse [Osaka, Japan]
The Black Expat
In some ways, this is just an interview with a person telling their expat story – but it’s more than that. It’s the voice of someone who has experienced being a minority both in her passport country and now in her host country. She shared the difficulty of making friends that transcend cultural difference, especially when someone sees you for your appearance rather than for your self. It’s so important to listen to a variety of expatriate experiences and stories, so I try to deliberately go out there and actively look for those diverse voices – not passively assume (or hope) they will find their way to me.

 

Recommended reading: May 27th, 2018

Wow I’m behind on sharing my recommended reading! But I’m in transition and, as I tell everyone else, that takes more time and energy than any of us give ourselves credit for. So I’m going to go ahead and post these thoughts I wrote a month ago and managed not to post at the time and I’m *not* going to feel bad about that delay. One day I will find myself some sort of regular routine, but since this week is my first chance to BEGIN that process, it’s totally fine that a routine doesn’t yet exist!

So, without further ado (or excuses for lateness) here are some great posts I read last month!

Two suitcases, maybe three… and the gift of lettuce
Notes on a boarding pass
Poignant reflections on leaving – the overwhelming list of farewells and changes that add up; thinking through what will be left behind, and lost; the extra stress in not knowing what will happen next… This is wonderful writing, the kind that helps the reader see and feel another’s experience. I ached with the familiarity of my own recent transitions and months spent living out of suitcases.

When you’re a local again, don’t forget the expats
The expat partner’s survival guide
A lovely vignette, and a good point! We who know what it’s like to be the new person, the outsider, the one struggling in a new place, language, or culture – we above all others should be quick to reach out and welcome others.

For the least of these
Velvet Ashes
Beautiful piece from missionary mum (and adult Missionary Kid) Joy, writing about the importance of connecting with her kids, not letting them get lost in the pressures of ministry life. Many MKs I interviewed spoke of feeling less important than their parents’ work, and in this piece Joy focuses on something so important for these kids: “It shouldn’t be a surprise that MKs struggle with our relationship to God. After all, God is the one who is responsible for the repetitive losses throughout our lives. It is essential that I am intentional in building the foundation of attachment and trust, so that, when the time comes to question their faith and their God, they will be absolutely assured of their value.

Expats beware: losing confidence in your mother tongue could cost you a job
Conversation
Interesting piece about language attrition, and how this impacts adults. A key point is that language changes over time. Our use of language, especially spoken, changes rapidly. If you have been away 20 years, the rules that govern what is appropriate may well have changed. This is a concern for immigrant kids, too – many learn an “outdated” version of the language, based on how it was spoken decades earlier when the parents left. I particularly appreciate Monika’s first tip for those concerned about manage attrition: “”Always have all documents you submit checked by a fully competent native speaker who is currently living there.” That last phrase is key – check your command of the language against someone currently living in the place, with that instinctive knowledge of how it “feels”.”

Smells like home
The New York Times
A lovely little piece considering the powerful trigger of smell in conjuring up a sense of ‘home’. I love this quote in particular: “I remember my mother’s comment about how the smells of my childhood would remind me of home, and home, I now know, is a place that exists not on a map but in my mind, ready to appear in its full, smelly glory at any moment.

How To Connect With Your Multicultural Community
Multicultural Kid Blogs
I loved this piece on connecting to multicultural communities, wherever you live! Johana points out some key reasons we don’t do this: “I have noticed that it is actually quite hard. For one, our cultures can seem very segregated, by languages, color, or social class. Secondly, we are constantly busy with our everyday lives and obligations. It is easy to go home after a hard day and immerse yourself in only the things that are immediately around you. It is a comfort zone.” Then she outlines some great practical advice on how to get out there and broaden your (family’s) horizons.

A History of Nomadism
Colorado Review
I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this longform piece by Megan Harlan, but I am oh-so-glad that I did. In it she reflects on what it means to be a nomad, both in the traditional desert-dweller sense, and in the modern TCK sense. She makes fascinating comparisons – similarities and contrasts. She expresses poignant thoughts on the impact of her own nomadic childhood. She ponders the nomad’s dilemma: “how to sculpt from rootlessness an identifiable, meaningful universe? Or, put more unnervingly: how do we attach meaning to constant change?” It is a long piece, and worth making the time for a long, slow read, considering and savouring the different elements she identifies and reflects on. Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite:

Like traditional pastoral nomads, my sense of home was as temporary as a campsite. But unlike them, my family’s “campsites” — our homes — were never revisited. No seasonal structure directed my family’s movements; no terrain was deemed ours. . .So like any nomadic child, I learned to apprehend places differently than settled people. During all the travel, as each of my homes was replaced by another, again, another, again, those seventeen times, the world loosened for me into flexible components: the view from another kitchen window, shadows cast by unfamiliar trees, my self refracted through more strangers in a new classroom. Patchwork, scraps, jumble—these fragments pieced into a perspective that lacked a solid middle distance; that place we take for granted to be “real life” kept disappearing on me. . .When people ask where I’m from, my answer is always in some way a lie, not that I mean it to be. I don’t know where I’m from, but who wants to hear that?

Graduation season

In the northern hemisphere it is graduation season, and around the world lots of TCKs are leaving countries that feel like home.

Some will be moving to countries they have a passport for, but feel foreign in.

Some will be moving to countries they consider home, and long to return to.

Some will be moving to new countries, in the familiar role as “foreigner”.

Some will become part of the visible majority for the first time.

Some will stand out for their appearance in a way that hasn’t happened before.

Some are focused on logistics – on preparing paperwork and possessions.

Some feel stuck in the grief of all they must leave behind.

Some are excited to launch out into a new life.

Some are terrified of all the change that is upon them.

Some feel the finality of this move. Life will never be the same again.

Many are overwhelmed by all the goodbyes – leaving people and places they love.

Most are a jumble of mixed emotions.

Several TCKs I interviewed for Misunderstood said high school graduation was one of the most difficult experiences of their lives.

One said: “Graduation was, to date, the hardest thing I’ve been through. Everyone around me kept saying that college would be the best years of my life, but I couldn’t see how that could be true.

Another said: “The biggest and longest period of grief I have experienced is when I graduated high school. I knew that I was not only leaving a place but a lifestyle.

And finally, one last quote: “If home is where the heart is then after we all graduate my home will be in Korea and America and other places I’ve never been to, because that’s where my friends will be.

So what do we do with all this? How do we help the TCKs we love as they move through this season full of goodbyes and hellos? I could write (and have spoken) about this at length, and maybe in the future I will write about it here. For now, however, I’m going to lean on the wisdom of others. I’ve pulled together some resources from various places that I think may be helpful both for graduates and for those of us who love them:

Graduation Gifts for your TCK (Communicating Across Boundaries)
This post was part of the inspiration for mine. In it the always wonderful Marilyn brings together a wealth of gift ideas along with reasons they can be helpful. I was honoured to see Misunderstood listed as one of eight excellent books on her list of suggestions.

The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition (Tina L. Quick)
Marilyn includes this book in her list, but it’s worth its own mention here as well. This is a book I recommend a lot, and it includes lots of great practical advice for TCKs heading toward university.

7 Thoughts for Graduating TCKs (A Life Overseas)
Elizabeth writes to graduating TCKs, sharing seven really helpful things to keep in mind – such as delayed processing, accepting paradox, grief, and the need for grace.

You are not special – a graduation address (Michele Phoenix)
This is a wonderful (fictional) graduation address for TCKs as they go out into the world. It sounds harsh, but it’s really not. Michele points out a potential pitfall TCKs can fall into and explains that “it’s easy to confuse being fortunate with being better.”

Third Culture Kids – From Overseas to Undergrad (RNG International)
Helpful insights into what the transition may look like on the other side for those going into university after high school, with some practical suggestions and thoughts from TCKs.

And finally, a good resource that applies to some is Interaction International – who run re-entry seminars for TCKs moving to the US.

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