Recommended Reading: July 2nd, 2018

Welcome to this week’s edition of Recommended Reading! This week I’ve collected a few recent posts on the theme of leaving the expat life. It seems fitting for this time of year, and after collecting this list I realised that my recent posts on transition and how to do it well are a good accompaniment to the rest of the list, not to mention my reflection on high school graduation for TCKs.

Some of the posts on this list are about TCKs repatriating, either after finishing high school or with a family. Others are about expats generally. Some are about decision making, some offer practical advice, and some reflect on the emotion of it all. I’m so glad there are so many different voices out there for us all to listen to and learn from – we need all these perspectives!

When “Home” isn’t a Place– The Challenges of Repatriation for Expat Kids
Expat Kids Club
This piece provides a great foundation for considering the emotional impact of repatriation on TCKs. Kate reflects on six aspects: identity, role, change, culture, grief, and benefits. It’s hard to pick a single quote to share – it’s all good, solid stuff!

Arriving “Home”: an Expat Paradox
Taking Route
I love this thoughtful piece on all the little things that contribute to the beautiful mess that is returning “home” after time away.
The first few days are a firehose of new information, new places, new smells, new tastes — and varied emotion. It’s crying over things that broke in the suitcase and fretting over stuff you’re sure you packed somewhere. It’s being thrilled with a restaurant just down the street and being disappointed when something should taste familiar and doesn’t.

Leaving well when leaving well is not possible
The Culture Blend
I really appreciate this post. There is a lot of talk in the expat/TCK world about how to leave well. It’s something I write and talk about myself. But in this piece Jerry stops to reflect on a painful reality – sometimes leaving well is simply outside our control. This whole post is worth taking time to slowly read and reflect on. Here’s a couple of little gems:
Sometimes leaving is a mess, not a choice. . .Plans get made — sometimes they work. When they don’t, here are some things to consider. . .Leaving is a process — not a moment. . .PLANE RIDES DON’T end relationships. Soak in that for a moment.

Third Culture Kids, College, and Culture Shock
A Life Overseas
Rachel reflects on college visits with her twin TCKs who are now preparing to repatriate and begin their university studies. She talks through some culture shock moments – such as vocabulary, wardrobe choices, and what is considered interesting and important. The aspect I most appreciate about this post is the way Rachel points out that the misunderstandings and judging go both ways – and gently warns TCKs to watch out for their own attitudes.
Yes, some people think Kenya is a city near Africa. Even college-bound people. And correct, no one knows what a Djibouti is. Again, sorry. And again, try not to judge. Remember how you didn’t know what broomball was? . . .Everyone has a lot to learn and that’s a huge part of what college is for.

15 Things I Want Tell My Graduating Third Culture Kid Seniors
Djibouti Jones
And another post by Rachel, this time with thoughts and advice for her kids as she sends them off into new lives. Lots of good stuff in here, with thoughtfulness that shows an understanding of some of the difficult aspects – as well as the opportunities – of repatriating for university. For example:
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help. People might think it is strange that you don’t know something they think is normal American life, but most of the time, they will also enjoy helping you and you never know what friendship might come of it. Be humble.

Culture shock in the same country
Bonnyville Nouvelle
This is a sweet little post about how transition stress goes with any big change – even moving to a new place within the same country! Author Robynne was an international orientation leader while at university, so she understood about culture shock etc. But she was surprised to find these lessons apply to HER as she processes a recent domestic move.
“I originally didn’t think the move would be that big of a deal for me, if I’m being completely honest. Unlike the international students at UOIT, I wasn’t leaving the country, I was just going over a couple of provinces, and driving through a couple of time zones. No big deal, right? Wrong. . .I realized that there was going to be an orientation period for me once I got out here, but I had no idea how much I would doubt myself during this transition.”

How To Welcome Her Back for the First Time
Velvet Ashes
Amy reflects on her first time visiting her family in her passport country after living abroad. Then she offers advice on welcoming well. There is a gentleness about this – the suggestions of leaving space, expecting change, accepting where the person is at. While this is a blog for missionaries, this post was full of helpful reflections for expats generally, as well as their passport country friends and family.
You all have changed. You all are changing. And you all are still the same because you are friends and family. This, of the first visit back, is rich with paradox.

The Last Week – A Graduation Story for the TCK
Communicating Across Boundaries
In this lovely vignette Marilyn reflects on her own high school graduation as a TCK. She introduces the piece with these poignant words:
We [Third Culture Kids] are not only leaving a school – we are leaving a home, a community, and a country. While most kids can go back home without a reason, the third culture kid cannot. The third culture kid does not only say goodbye to a school, they say goodbye to a life. Graduation for the TCK is a type of deportation.

Seven things expats should consider before moving back home
Expat.com
This is a simple but helpful piece with a list of things to consider when thinking about repatriation. There are no easy answers, but a solid guide to some of the things that may affect your life after repatriation, and how to take these into account when considering a move “home”.

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.