Recommended Reading catchup: September-October 2018

I am starting a series of Recommended Reading catchup posts. While I was sick, I was still finding headlines and skimming articles related to TCKs and expat life, but didn’t have the energy to really read them, let alone prepare them to share with you. I ended up with a long list of links that I didn’t want to abandon but also hadn’t shared in a timely manner. I went back and sorted them by when they were first posted, and I’m going through them month by month. I’m starting out with a few posts from September and October 2018 that I discovered too late to include in the Recommended Reading posts I wrote before getting sick.

It’s ‘never too late’ for parenting advice, study says
BBC
Okay, so this isn’t expat specific, but I think there’s good news here for every single expat parent who is concerned about things they *should* have known or done when their children were smaller. “The research says it’s time to stop focusing on when to intervene with parenting skills, and step in to help children in need of all ages.” Whatever age your child is, learning more about the TCK perspective, and making adjustments accordingly, can be incredibly helpful!

From Stateless to Citizen
Hiraeth Magazine
TCKs (and often expats) can feel the pain of having no legal recognition in the place that feels like home, but how much deeper is the pain and impact – emotionally, legally, and in every aspect of life – of having NO place that legally recognises you? This piece tells the story of Mamoun, who was born stateless as a Palestinian refugee in Syria. It follows his journey to gain citizenship in the Netherlands for himself, and his family. The post links to a fundraiser which is now closed, but was successful in funding his application for Dutch citizenship. There is also a video interview with Mamoun.
“[Mamoun spent] almost 40 years without even the hope of a chance to become a citizen. Being stateless affected his ability to work and to travel. It made him feel like someone from another planet, belonging nowhere. He worried for his children’s future as stateless persons. It was a tenuous existence. . .Not only will Dutch citizenship give him a permanent right to stay, work, and build a life in his adopted country, it is also the cumulation of his lifetime dream to be a citizen, to have a passport, to truly belong in a place he can call home.”

5 Ways How Living Abroad Helps Increase Creativity
Global Living Magazine
In this piece Nepalese jewellery designer Kajal Naina explains some of the ways that living overseas has widened her experience and perspective, and how this has translated into deeper creativity as an artist.
“Having walked through the stories and atmosphere of both countries, I can pull pieces from them both and marry them in a way they couldn’t otherwise co-exist. . .Design that transcends borders speaks to people and connects them. In the example of bringing Japanese and Indian design together, you have to wonder how the two cultures would react to seeing it.”

Thriving in Your Expat Life
Global Living Magazine
And here’s another piece from Global Living. This one is a simple list of things to keep in mind when preparing to move abroad, and while adjusting. This is good, solid advice – both for new expats who don’t know what to expect, and good as a reminder to those of us who can get a little world (literally) weary. I particularly appreciated point three:
“Keep expectations real: No-one moves abroad and fits in immediately. Making friends, setting up new routines and embarking on a different career will challenge you.”

Expat friends and always saying goodbye
The Expat Mummy
This is a great post about the underlying nature of expatriate friendships – why they are great, how they’re different, and their inherent challenges. The list of questions we ask ourselves – is it worth it? Should I invest less? Altogether a sweet and helpful read.
“A expat life is invariably a fluid thing, a transient state. By their very nature people that move abroad to start a new life are open to new experiences. More often than not those experiences mean moving country again. Expats are a nomadic group, a collective of travellers.”

The Tricky Allure of Becoming a Black American Expatriate
The Atlantic
This is a powerful piece. I really appreciate the way author Kimberly Springer articulates her journey as a black American expatriate, and her experience and understanding of racism both at home and abroad. There is a lot to learn here, an important perspective to listen to. She also demonstrates how living in another place affects perception – both providing escape and also fondness through nostalgia, plus new information, and a new lens through which to view both past and present.
“Feeling free from the metaphorical shackles of American racism has lasting value. Yet, being a black expat, one who’s attuned to American racial suffering, can merely heighten one’s awareness of other colonialist histories around the world and the racial disparities that persist because of them — a far cry from actually escaping racism. Living abroad can mean becoming one’s full self and being more deeply engaged with black struggle throughout the diaspora.”

My Very Personal Taste of Racism Abroad
The New York Times
In this piece, another African American woman talks about her experiences of racism abroad. I think it’s helpful to include these two articles together – the previous one talking more about general institutional racism, and this more personal piece. Racism is a multi-faceted issue, and there are so many different experiences of it (which this piece also mentions).
“During orientation, the Italian instructors talked about customs and other important practices to take note of. What I remember most is one woman from the program telling us to be mindful that Italians can be “bold” or “politically incorrect.” That was one way to put it. No one mentioned the possibility of racial encounters and tensions, largely aimed at the rising number of African immigrants.”

The Three Cultures of a Third Culture Kids – a popular post!

I’ve explained before that I’m easing back into blogging regularly following an extended hiatus for health reasons. I said I’d be highlighting some posts that people interacted with a lot in 2018, but I’m actually starting with a post I wrote for another blog!

I wrote a series of three short posts for China Source outlining some of the basics about what it means to be a Third Culture Kid. The first of these posts was titled The Three Cultures of a Third Culture Kid – and it became one of the the top ten most read posts on the site in 2018! (It’s number four on their list.)

I think part of the reason this post resonated widely is that so many people are confused about what the “three cultures” are. In short, it’s three types of cultural influence – not a count of how many countries you’re connected to, or a combination of a passport country and a host country.

The article also includes a few short excerpts from Misunderstood – quotes from TCKs I interviewed, sharing about their connections to home, country, culture. Personal stories are always powerful. I’ve always believed one of the greatest strengths of Misunderstood is that it draws upon personal stories shared with me by hundreds of TCKs.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

But having a passport isn’t the same as having experiential connections. The experience of growing up in places where I do not have legal recognition has an emotional impact. The country I legally belong to doesn’t completely feel like home, but I am not accepted by the country that does feel like home.

Singapore has always been very foreign to me, but when people asked where I was from, I replied: “Singapore.” It was a reflex. In high school, when people asked where I was from, I still said Singapore, but I knew it simply meant the country printed on my passport.

Stephanie

Read the full post on China Source

Recommended listening

I’m not quite ready to jump into Recommended Reading reviews just yet, but I was recently interviewed on a podcast which I’m going to recommend to you. So I also made a list of a few different podcasts I’ve appeared on in the past year or so as some recommended listening until I return to a regular schedule of Recommended Reading.

Migratory Patterns

I recently had a great conversation with Mike Shaw for the Migratory Patterns podcast. We talked about a lot of things, but particularly focusing on Third Culture life, both for kids and adults. I also explained a little about my current research, and why I’m preparing to write a book for twenty-something TCKs.

“Most of my interviews were with twenty-somethings and so I was really into these issues and aware of it and it was informing everything that went into Misunderstood. I was talking about their childhood experiences from that perspective of looking back on them… But what happens for a lot of those kids is they get to university and it’s like they walk off the cliff. There’s no support for what they go through, because their process of growing into adulthood looks really different. They’re juggling all these different cultural inputs, these different attachments, so their identity formation takes a lot longer. Not because they’re behind but just because they have a lot more information to process. The decision of how to work out what you want to do with your life is a lot harder when you have way more options. When your idea of what success is – you’re not even sure what you think, because the answer for you has always changed depending on who you’re talking to. When you now have to decide for yourself, when it’s not “my environment is determining for me”. Where I have to, as an adult, make my own independent decision. That’s a new skill.”

Click here to listen to my conversation with Mike

Mo Sibyl

Podcaster Mo Sibyl is a Nigerian academic in the US with an interest in Korean culture – among other things! I really enjoyed talking with her – we turned out to have many shared interests, including a love of language and statistics! At one point she said: “This is now a conversation between two language nerds!

What I appreciated most was how she got me talking about my work. She asked different questions from interesting angles, eliciting interesting responses from me in return. Even if you know me well, have talked to me about what I do, there’s probably something new in this. Here’s a few excerpts:

A lot of what I do is translating the TCK experience… Articulating things that they aren’t able to… Because of what they’ve been through, this is how they see the world, and here are some ways we can support them and understand them better. . .Over ten years I developed a set of tools that work. So now what I’m doing is sharing with parents and teachers the tools I developed on the ground.”

Click here to listen to my conversation with Mo

Go Ye There

The first podcast I was invited to speak on happened while I was still in Australia completing my studies. It is a podcast by/for missionaries, but our conversation is a great primer for anyone raising kids overseas. We go through the basics of the TCK experience – what “TCK” means, what the Third Culture is, how growing up overseas shapes a child’s worldview, and more.

“All expats live in the Third Culture, but adults and children experience it very differently. Adults are viewing their international experience through the worldview shaped by their own childhood. Whereas a a TCK’s worldview is shaped by an international childhood. And this determines how they view the rest of the world, including their home country. When you grow up with more than one culture as a child, it affects the way you understand life, and the world, and yourself… Your kids might not be “struggling” as such, but they’re absolutely affected, because childhood experiences shape who we are.”

Click here to listen to my interview on the TCK basics

TCK Summit

I recorded a ten minute talk for The Change School‘s TCK Summit shortly after Misunderstood was first released. The TCK Summit is a series of short talks hosted on youtube discussing different aspects of cross-cultural life, especially as it affects TCKs. The month I contributed to was themed “Cultivating the Mind”. Two areas The Change School focuses on are “developing a Global Mindset” and lifelong learning, so my talk included what this looked liked for me.

The core of my talk was about connection to multiple cultures, and why this requires cultivation of mind. There is stress attached to navigating differing cultural expectations, which can dim mental clarity. This is something that came out in a number of my interviews for Misunderstood – TCKs faced with the need to make a decision about the future often experienced anxiety they needed tools to work through.

“The influence of multiple cultures can be quite stressful at times. If you are influenced by two cultural systems that means double the information to take in, double the social rules to learn, double the means of communication to master, double the values to internalise… Knowing yourself deeply, consciously processing emotion, acknowledging difficulties, creating mental space – these are all strategies that make it easier for each of us to grow through our engagement with multiple cultures rather than become overwhelmed by all the noise.”

Watch my TCK Summit talk on youtube

That’s it for today! I hope to be back with some Recommended Reading catch up next week.

Some initial results from my survey of ATCKs – and how you can help!

I’ve written before about my new project for twenty-something TCKs, and the survey I launched as a starting place for looking into issues that affect them.

I had to put my research on hold for a few months due to illness BUT the good news is that means I’m still looking for more ATCKs to complete my initial survey! If you lived overseas as a child and are now an adult (especially if you are between 30-50 years old!) I would LOVE to have your input. Please do share this around with anyone you know who might be interested.

Click here to go to the survey

300 ATCKs have completed the survey, and over 100 have indicated a willingness to be interviewed. So far there are 55 different passport countries and 134 countries of residence represented. All of this is really exciting!!

Are all your countries represented? I’ve included the full list of countries below – take a look and see!

I’m also going to share with you a few inital results from the survey – the story so far. The survey is still open and so these results may shift, especially if the demographics of participants evens out. Currently there are more females than males, more under 30s than over 30s, and more missionary kids than other demographics. So, with the understanding that these are very provisional results, here are a few statistics from the survey so far:

  • 46% lived 10 or more years of childhood outside their legal culture/s.
  • 20% lived in four or more countries before age 18.
  • 32% currently hold legal status (passport or permanent residency) in two or more countries.
  • 43% have given up legal status (passport or permanent residency) they previously held.

A lot of this survey asks which issues are/were a struggle, to help me understand what issues and information will be most helpful to discuss in a book for twenty-somethings. Here are a few of the issues that many ATCKs are responding to:

  • 80% have struggled with maintaining friendships long-distance.
  • 73% have struggled to find a sense of belonging in their passport countries.
  • 72% have struggled with putting down roots.
  • 70% have struggled with a fear of connecting and then leaving/being left.
  • 69% have struggled with making a place “home”.

I also asked questions about mental health and support services. This is something I get a LOT of questions about, and I want to make sure the new book has solid and helpful information. This is a simple survey based on self-reporting, but the statistics on how mental health issues have affected ATCKs are still worth paying attention to:

  • 78% report being affected by unresolved grief.
  • 76% report being affected by anxiety.
  • 70% report being affected by depression.
  • 26% report being affected by self-harm.
  • 14% report being affected by substance abuse.
  • 36% have never received any type of mental health support.

Finally, here is the long list of countries represented by the 300 people who have completed the survey so far! Are all yours here?

55 Legal Cultures
These are the countries survey participants have/had a passport from or legal permanent residency in.
Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Côte D’Ivoire, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Senegal, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.

134 Geographic Cultures
These are the countries survey participants have lived in. 123 of these were childhood homes! (This list includes 10 territories*; I include them as they are geographically/culturally very different to their governing nations.)
Afghanistan, Akrotiri and Dhekelia*, Albania, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Aruba*, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cayman Islands*, Central African Republic, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo (Rep), Congo (DRC), Costa Rica, Côte D’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Hong Kong*, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao*, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norfolk Island*, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Pitcairn Islands*, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico*, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, South ‎Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, Virgin Islands*, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Recommended reading: November 19th, 2018

This week’s Recommended Reading is a little shorter than usual, with fewer comments from me. After so many weeks of illness (and waking up to a lingering sore throat and head this morning) this is the best I can manage – and I’m learning to be okay with that. I still have long a list of posts I’ve saved to read later so have no fear – there’s a lot of material waiting for future editions of Recommended Reading!

Multilocalism Is Taiye Selasi’s Response To Those Attempting To Put A Label On Her
Forbes
I love Taiye Selasi’s thoughts on multilocalism. I referenced her TED talk both in Misunderstood and also in many semianrs I run. This is an interview with her about the concept and why it matters.
“For me the concept of being multilocal or experiences of being multilocal emerge from 20th and 21st century life taking such deep root in the places where people find themselves. It becomes most salient now because people find themselves in increasingly more places. Now, because our thinking and our language about identity has become more nuanced we know to ask more refined questions and we’ll expect to hear all of these local experiences of where someone is from. To be multilocal is just be informed by the totality of your local experiences”

The Lonely Life: Expat Suicide, Depression & Hotlines for Help
Flying with Toddlers
A sobering but oh-so-important post talking about depression and suicide among expatriates. As the author points out, these are not merely tragedies for individual families, but deeply impact the expatriate community. Sadly, so often those who are struggling feel isolated from that community. This post lists a variety of resources available to struggling expats, which is really helpful.
“If there’s one thing I could say to any woman struggling after relocation it’s this: you are not alone. There are hundreds if not thousands of us out there navigating our way through the maze of expat life alongside you. You do not need to suffer by yourself. For anyone needing support transitioning to a foreign country, there are a variety of resources available.”

Global Education Is Patriotic. Nationalist Rhetoric Does Not Benefit Our Students Education Week
An argument for the benefits of global engagement as opposed to nationalism, especially in education. A relevant topic for globally mobile families. It’s hard for a child with connections to multiple countries to engage with nationalistic sentiment.
“Why frame this as an ‘either-or’? Can’t we love our world and our country at the same time? Gaining a global mindset based on intellectual, social, and psychological capital, not being ruled by fear, is a privilege every child deserves. It makes our country stronger.”

A Homesickness Unto Life
In Search of Waking
Beautiful and poetic meditations on the meaning of “home” – especially in the midst of a world-travelling life.
“As I flit once more from this continent to that, packing my life’s possessions in three overlarge suitcases (discounting, of course, the books, pottery, clothes, and childhood toys that live in perpetual storage in my parents’ house and grandmother’s attic), it strikes me that home is a gift that must be given and received.2 It is bound to our conception of place (the familiar, the safe), but, at its core, deals in intangibles that transcend the physical world home inhabits: love, acceptance, belonging. Home is that place where one is sheltered and cherished. Not simply where one is known, but where one is desired to be known. The place where grace is extended and perfection is neither required nor expected. Where there is room to play, experiment, and fail. Where there is room to grow.”

Expat Parent Interviews; Where are they now?
Our Globetrotters
Great post re-interviewing several expat families about their journeys around the world. Long post, but great stories! Here’s a few excerpts:
“Then after 2.5 years life turned upside down when my husband was made redundant. Out of the blue the government organisation he was working for pulled out of mega project and all the staff were let go. This made us realise how quickly your life can unravel when your life is tied to a residency visa from a company. Your job, house, schooling – everything. . . I didn’t think I could replicate my ‘tribe’ or expat family I’d found in Hong Kong, so finding a few of the best friends I’ve ever had really was such a welcome surprise. When it eventually came for us to call it a day and head to Sydney for our next posting, we were all so torn. Leaving the adventure that was expat life was tough but leaving our friends was heartbreaking. . . The past two months have been both chaotic and wonderful. We have been deep in the throes of transition and have experienced every feeling from loving our new country to feeling culture shock all at the same time. . . The biggest thing during this period was the uncertainty. The living out of a box. We went from the end of March until the end of September without our familiar furniture, the kids toys, or even a place to call home. We knew we were moving but we weren’t sure when or exactly where.”

5 Ways To Help Knock Out Culture Shock
Diplomatic Kid
Five suggestions from a diplomat kid for facing and working through culture shock.
“Meeting others, while doing something physical somehow breaks cultural barriers… I have long believed that everyone should be a lifelong learner. Taking a class is not only humbling, but can also open up doors, shed light on culture, history and lead one down a path they never thought of.”

Recommended reading: November 5th, 2018

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! I’m starting this week with two posts written about Military Kids, one sub-type of TCKs and CCKs. I’d thought about saving them to go toward a military-themed edition of Recommended Reading but then I reconsidered. These are quality posts with excellent points that apply to lots of expatriate families.

Military Kids Face Unique Challenges to Their Mental Health
Tonic
In this post, the grown up military kid author looks at research into mental health outcomes for military kids and possible supports to improve this. I love this quote particularly. It explains exactly what I try to communicate – there is so much good that comes from an international childhood, but there are difficulties and needs that also need attention.
Military kids are frequently praised for their resilience, and rightfully so. But for many, the path to building that resilience is paved with anxiety, feelings of abandonment, and depression. Just as their strengths are celebrated, their needs deserve serious, resourceful attention…I don’t regret a second of my military childhood. The more we can understand the impact a military lifestyle can have on adolescents, however, the more I, and maybe other military brats — the ones who are foreigners in their hometowns and don’t know a single person from their childhood — can make a little more sense of our lives beyond the military.

3 Reasons Your Military Kids Don’t Need Roots…and Why They’re Better Off
Military Spouse
This piece acknowledges that a childhood with lots of transition does mean kids miss out on developing deep roots, with stability and continuity. But, the author suggests, they are learning different skills. There are some really good points here about different positives that can come from an international childhood. As long as articles like this are read alongside those like the one above – that we balance seeing the positives and also supporting the difficulties.
Often, as military parents, we worry about what we are not providing our kids: stability, continuity and those thick, long roots. We worry about how the military lifestyle is affecting our kids now, in the present: are they scared? Nervous? Shy? Sad? Lost? Lonely? Anxious? How is deployment affecting them? Is it interfering with their learning, their happiness, their ability to socialize? But then I thought of what we are giving them, and deep down I believe it has the power to prepare them for the long-term in a truly awesome way.”

Transitioning Well As a Family When Moving
Taking Route
Great post with simple and practical suggestions to help families deal with transition. Even better – each tip comes with a practical way to implement the idea!
It took us a few tries and lots of practice, but our family discovered several keys to making transition calmer, more manageable, and even…enjoyable. Yes, enjoyable. We have some great family memories from times of transition. (We’re a little crazy like that.) So now we’ve become routine-loving homebodies who also enjoy moving and change and new places. . .You may not become a change junkie overnight, that doesn’t mean you can’t embrace transition when it comes. And your attitude will set the example for everyone else.

Building resilience in children
Japan Harvest
Some simple tips for building resilience in TCKs. This is from a missionary perspective but, as with the military posts above, has helpful information for all kinds of expat families. A lot of what I commonly teach in seminars is summarised here – the need to learn that failure is part of the process, the importance of learning to grieve losses well, and modelling this for them with emotional vocabulary. (Even quotes Julia Simens – who I regularly reference!)
Children are not naturally resilient, but parents can teach them the skills so that they can learn how to be resilient. Such skills include things like making friends, having faith, building relationships, and letting failure be okay. As parents of TCKs, we can also teach them an emotional vocabulary that leads to emotional literacy, which will help them to process the large amount of loss that is part of the TCK’s life. This process helps build resiliency in our children and prepares them to lead successful lives.

Peeling Pomegranates in Rania
Communicating Across Boundaries
Yet another lovely reflection from Marilyn as she transitions to a new life on another continent. What I love about this particular piece is how a simple task connected her TCK past to her current life.
Most TCKs acquire skills that are useful in their childhood but often end up as hidden parts of their lives when they are older and living in their passport countries. Suddenly this ability to peel pomegranates feels important. Growing up in Pakistan and acquiring the skills that were not needed in the U.S. has uniquely prepared me for living here.”

Learning to Be an Acceptable Outsider
China Source
This is a short but challenging piece about what it means to be a “foreigner” – to be seen as an outsider, and know that you will never be considered a local. This can be annoying, and even painful. The suggestion this article makes – become an “acceptable outsider”. This advice comes with a list of questions to consider – what does this look like, and how can I do this.
In order to be an acceptable outsider, we must have access to the world of the insiders…we must be willing to submit to insiders and their ways…we must be willing to change.

Why being a career expat is a huge leap of faith
The Piri-Piri Lexicon
One thing I tried hard to do in Misunderstood was capture the wide range of expatriate experiences, and therefore the wide range of ways a TCK might grow up. Not all expat families move frequently, and not all have financially generous ‘expat packages’. This post talks about this other experience – the “career expat”, a family who move abroad independently, without the financial and logistical support others receive. There are some interesting points about what this means for a family. Well worth a read!
Many expats have a home country and/or a company as a safety net. Being a career expat family is a leap of faith without that safety net. Maybe being a career expat is not for people with a plan B.

The Expatriate Mothers’ Network
Indonesia Expat
While this post is about a particular experience in a particular country, there is also something more universal about it. The suprise at how deep expatriate relationships can go. The importance of having that support when you are so far away from your original networks. Having people who understand – something we all need.
I never thought that moving abroad would result in gaining more friends than I had before I left. I thought my journey as an expat would be lonely and that I would struggle to find like-minded people. Instead, I have met many soul mates and genuine connections from various backgrounds and cultures. When I became an expat, I became a part of a dynamic network that would grow even stronger and larger when I had a baby.

Lessons from a Third Culture childhood, part 3: after “everyone leaves”

My first post in this series explored a “lesson” TCKs learn through growing up internationally: that everyone leaves. Next, I paused to address a very common response: “what about the internet?” The internet allows for relationships to be maintained long-distance, which is so very helpful! But it doesn’t actually solve the underlying problem.

Now in part three, I am finally (delayed due to a month of ill health) getting to the “solutions”. Only after we stop to really hear the sadness TCKs experience can we start talking about what happens after everyone leaves. With that foundation under us, I’m going to work through a few ideas that can be helpful for anyone dealing with the life lesson that “everyone leaves”. The bottom line is this: you can’t change the past, but you can choose what sort of future to build. Understanding what we think, and learning new ways of thinking, can make a huge difference in this regard.

Change, transition, and goodbyes

While the focus of this post is dealing with the aftermath – the life lesson encoded from a childhood full of goodbyes – it’s worth taking a moment to consider what to do in the thick of things. It’s important to understand the relationship between change and transition, and the impact transition has on our daily lives – whether we stay or go. Understanding this process, leaving space for it, and practicing self-compassion during it, goes a long way toward encouraging future healing and growth.

Saying good goodbyes is also really important. I’ll write a full post about this at some point, but as a summary thought – anything that matters (a person, animal, place, group) is worth saying goodbye to. Any relatiosnhip that will be changed, any routine that will be lost, is worth marking. There are lots of ways to do this (parties, gifts, memory books, photos, last visits, etc.) but it can also be an internal process. I can stop and recognise the importance of each person/place, expressing sadness and gratitude, any time – even after the fact, even years later, when a good goodbye was not said at the time. This is especially helpful when a family moves unexpectedly – for both the ones who leave, and the ones left behind.

Living “everyone leaves” long term

What I really want to focus on in this post is what to do later in life, when the lesson that “everyone leaves” has sunk in and affects the way I think and act. As I’ve listened to and mentored young adult TCKs in particular (especially as I start preparation for my next book) I’ve found a few tools that help us reframe our thoughts – and take control of the future. Taking time to consciously understand how these very valid past hurts impact our present-day reactions allows us to stop the past from stealing the future.

Saying goodbye sucks. Losing friends sucks. There’s no point sugar-coating that. The reality of change and loss can be painful, and it can’t be changed. The past is what it is. But staying in that place of pain, and the helplessness and hopelessness that often goes with it, doesn’t change the past. We must acknowledge the truth of our lives. But we don’t have to be ruled by it forever. We get to choose what happens next.

Sunk costs

In business there is a term for money you’ve already paid: a “sunk cost”. It is money you can’t get back. You’ve already paid the rent, bought the inventory, paid the salary – whatever it is, good decision or bad, it’s done. The question now has to be what is the best way forward, given that you can’t get the “sunk cost” back. This rule means that sometimes the best decision for a business is to sell old inventory at a loss – because that’s better that having it take up space in a warehouse. Let me use a mundane example to explain. Imagine you’re at a restaurant, and having eaten 3/4 of your meal you are feeling very full. Part of your brain is saying you should eat the rest because you’ve already paid for it! A “sunk cost” mentality says that you pay the same price for the meal no matter how much you eat, that the money is already spent. So, would you enjoy the meal more by stopping now, or by making yourself sick eating too much? Forget what you can’t change, and make the best decision starting from now. Perhaps you can take the small leftover portion home to be a snack later. But even if that’s not possible, eating it all in order not to leave waste may not be the best decision.

I’ve found sunk costs an extremely helpful concept in my personal life. Something has already happened in my life. I can’t change that. So what am I going to do about it? I don’t need to “fix” something that’s already happened. Blaming myself for a bad decision, or blaming someone else for causing me pain, doesn’t change the situation I find myself in. Instead, I can look ahead and decide what to do next.

When it comes to the “everyone leaves” lesson, we can’t change what has happened. We can only decide what is the best way forward, all things being as they are. Yes, I have experienced many goodbyes, and that hurt. But what sort of life do I want from now on? What choices will help me build that sort of future?

Change happens

Change is a part of life everywhere – you can’t insulate yourself against it, no matter what you do. You may decide you want to settle down in one place for the rest of your life, to minimise the potential for change and loss. But anywhere in the world, your best friend might choose to move away, perhaps without warning. No matter what you do, you can’t eliminate change. To be happy and healthy moving forward, therefore, you must find a way to cope with change.

Some people want to be the one who initiates change, so they are in control of it. They may move frequently, change jobs, or locations. One adult TCK told me that she had lived in the same town (with her husband and two kids) for six years, but in five different houses. Most of those moves happened simply because she wanted to move. She would find a better area, look for a better house. It took her years to realise she felt uncomfortable staying put for too long; when work kept them in one place, moving house helped soothe her itchy feet. Having recognised this, she wanted to try addressing the underlying feelings, but in the mean time she was pleased she had found a compromise that worked for her – that kept her living in the same city, not running away.

Another ATCK finds moving stressful, but still has a deep desire to see the world. So he and his wife travel frequently, but always come home to the same house.

I think the important part of this isn’t how I cope with change, but that I do cope with change. That I am able to face my feelings about change, and make conscious choices about how to respond to those feelings – not be controlled by fears I avoid. Each of us needs to acknowledge that change happens, and we can’t avoid that – but it doesn’t mean
we don’t have choices.

Pick your poison

Many TCKs I’ve talked with over the years have laid out the two choices they have: either go through the horrible pain of saying goodbye over and over, or don’t invest deeply in people to begin with. For many, avoiding deep relationships seems like the obvious and logical choice. The problem is that it’s not a choice between pain or no pain, it’s a choice between two different kinds of pain.

Yes, getting close to people only to have to say goodbye, over and over, is painful. But going through life without those close friendships, without people who know you, without anyone to share life with, is also painful.

So this is the real choice: either enjoy the beauty of friendship while you can, and pay the price in grief when someone moves away, or swap that sharp pain for the constant dull ache of feeling isolated and unknown. There is pain either way. But one path leads to relational connection – pain with gain. The other leads to isolation – a more lonely and sad kind of pain.

Faced with the reality of this choice, most of us instinctively understand the benefit of continuing to take the risk of investing in people.

And THIS is where the internet comes in

Maintaining friendships via the internet helps with a middle ground here. There is still the grief when a friend moves, or something happens and I’m not there in person. Tthere is still the ache of not sharing everyday life. And yet, an ongoing bond through different life circumstances (in different countries!) can be rich and rewarding. My own best friend and I have only spent two of our 13 years of friendship in the same country. We both travelled across oceans to be in each other’s weddings. We come from different passport countries but have each visited the other’s family home, met parents and siblings.

I’ve had to grieve the changes in our relationship many times. But each time, I knew it was worth continuing to invest in her, and in our friendship.

This is the bottom line: you can’t go back. you can only go forward. Take the time to acknowledge hurts and grieve losses – then move forward.  Make choices about where you want to go, and who you want to be, rather than what you want to avoid. Invest in people, even though it means investing in harder goodbyes. Work out what you want from life, and start building toward that.

You can’t change the past – but you can make choices about what happens next.

Recommended reading: October 29th, 2018

More recommended reading about TCKs and expat life. This week tackles a few emotionally difficult issues – grief, attachment, loneliness, and how our physical state affects our ability to cope. But there’s also some lighter pieces as well. Whether heavy or light, each of these posts has something helpful to speak into our expat and TCK lives.

When Do You Grieve? Pre, Post, or Present?
Djibouti Jones
Fantastic piece from Rachel looking at grief with a real and tangible example – her twins finishing high school and starting university, and the three countries involved in that process. She describes, with detail you can see and feel, goodbyes that were both hard and sweet. And then she brings it all together with the theory on pre/post grieving – how we each process grief differently.
Knowing this about myself and my response has helped me not feel guilty for not crying in the dorm room. . .It also helps me understand my husband and our youngest, as we talk through how we are each doing. Helps us not compare our specific emotional states in time. Helps us not judge other parents. Helps us not judge ourselves. Helps us do the grieving so we can do the healing, too.

Third Culture Kid Relationships: Attachment & Trauma
Life Story
Rachel does a fantastic job in this post of explaining how the Third Culture childhood experience involves “trauma with a little ‘t’” and the way this impacts TCKs as they mature into adults. She links to some articles on attachment theory to help further explain this. She writes, as always, with great compassion and understanding of the TCK experience, including the resistance many have to accept that their background involved some difficulties, and the reality that some ATCKs really struggle as a result.
Your challenges are not simply the result of personal failings, but are instead normal responses to extraordinary circumstances. But where does this leave us? It leaves us in the uncomfortable position of inferring that certain elements of Third Culture Kid experiences as essentially traumatic. Traumatic because they interfere with the abilities of large portions of the TCK population to connect securely in their adult relationships. Of course, there is hope. Where we learnt self-blame, we can learn self-compassion…We can change behaviours learnt through painful experiences. Change is, after all, what we do best.

7 Ways Traditions Foster a Healthy Expat Identity
World Tree Coaching
I love this post! One of the big tips I share with expat families about how to help their TCKs feel settled and get the most out of their international experiences is to work hard at creating traditions that stick, no matter where you are. In this post, Jodi gives a lot of great practical advice on how to do just that!
We often think of the importance of traditions and rituals in the context of creating a home space or in building family unity, but for expats, there’s even more to it. When we move frequently from place to place, creating rituals, adhering to traditions and enjoying celebrations makes a globally mobile life more than just the transitions, baggage, and upheaval. It helps us define the very nature of who we are in the midst of those things. Traditions and rituals help us express ourselves fully in new spaces and remind us who we are in familiar ones. They can help us build community, learn new things about ourselves and create a sense of home no matter where we go.”

Physical Well-being and Cross-Cultural Adjustment
Communicating Across Boundaries
I shared this on social media already, but it bears sharing again! Marilyn talks about how “Physical well-being has a massive impact on our ability to adjust.” YES! Transition is hard. Transition when you’re unwell feels downright impossible. And often when we’re physically down we don’t have the energy to believe things will ever be different than they are in this moment. That’s when we need to read words like Marilyn’s.
Suddenly I questioned everything. Why did I think I had the capacity to make an international move? Who was I kidding? I was no use to anybody in my passport country, let alone a new place, new people, new job, new language. . .You are not a failure. You are human, made of flesh and blood, cells and vessels. Sometimes you get sick. This happens in countries where you know the language perfectly, and in countries where you don’t know the language at all. Take extra time to rest and get well.”

Tips How to Raise Global Citizens and Travel More with Kids
Skimbaco
I’ve read posts with similar titles before, and found them trite or not terribly realisitc. This one is different! Katja explains how their family made travel a priority, and shares some tips on ways to stretch always limited time and money in order to prioritise travel as a family. Here’s one tip I found particularly interesting:
Here’s another secret. Family travel doesn’t always have to mean the entire family travels together. We have a tradition in our family that says that each child receives a special day trip for their 10th birthday and an even more special trip for their 13th birthday. Of course we prefer to travel with the entire family, but by doing it this way we are able to offer special trips for each child.

House Hunters International frustrates me. Here’s why.
The Expat Spouse
I was surprised by how much I appreciated this post. On the surface it might seem a bit silly – an expat’s perspective on a reality TV show. But there are some really good points! The disparity in the experience of “ordinary” things, like looking for suitable accommodation, in different places.
Funny storylines aside, what frustrates me is that it’s fundamentally an unrealistic conversation. Why isn’t anyone concerned about the closest metro or walking distance to a grocery store? It’s like everyone forgets that they’ll have to shop for food everyday (because they won’t get an American-sized refrigerator). They all talk about wanting to explore Europe, so why don’t they look for a house close to transportation hubs? Why this isn’t part of the conversation. I struggle with understanding why tv programs can’t paint a more realistic picture of an international house hunt. I think it would help to better prepare current or potential expats in their very real relocation. It would also educate the audiences on the true complexities that we as expats face. I’m think I’m looking for more authenticity of what we all go through. What’s wrong with being more honest about the challenges we face?

Lonely as an expat? Not anymore!
I Am Expat
An easy-read post with practical suggestions of how to handle the loneliness so many expats experience from time to time.
Being an expat can be a lonely journey. You are immersed in a completely new culture with a different set of values and way of life, you meet different people, you don’t speak the language, you miss your friends and family, but most of all, connecting with the people around you is really hard (especially in the beginning). You have no idea where to start, how to approach people, and most of all, how long it will take until you feel at home. . .Like all painful experiences we endure, loneliness can also be the catalyst of a productive period in our life; a wonderful opportunity to start working on meaningful relationships and a chance to build the life you want.

What’s it really like to move to a country where you don’t speak the language?
Absolutely Lucy
This piece reflects on the experience of moving to a place where you don’t speak the language – the challenges and the joys that go with it.
It’s truly humbling to feel so vulnerable and to understand what people from communities around the world must go through every day. It can feel isolating and lonely at times…but the loneliness is also inspiring, it is pushing me to learn as much as I can, it makes me want to learn for all the kind, thoughtful German friends I have made, the ones who try so hard to include me. . .There will be struggles and there will be times when you feel like giving up and going home, but I feel that the more prepared you are for dealing with these, the more likely you are to stick it out and make it work.

Talking about TCKs and expat life with Mo Sibyl

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’ve been sick the last 2+ weeks, while also being busier than normal. This means I still haven’t finished the article I’d intended to post today. Thankfully, I providentially have something else to share with you! In a Recommended Reading post back in June I shared a piece by Mo’lanee Sibyl. Following that, Mo and I connected through social media and soon she invited me to appear on her podcast, More Sibyl. The episode we taped just went live, and you can listen to it here!

I really enjoyed our conversation, and reliving it by listening to the finished podcast was lovely. Mo and I found we had a bunch of shared interests, including a love of language and statistics! (At one point she says: “This is now a conversation between two language nerds!”) We kept finding new tangents to chase, and shared experiences and perspectives to exclaim over and laugh about.

What I appreciated most was how she got me talking about my TCK work. She asked different questions from a different angle, and got a different response from me in return. Even if you know me well, have talked to me about what I do, there’s probably something new in this. Here’s a few excerpts:

“A lot of what I do is translating the TCK experience… Articulating things that they aren’t able to… Because of what they’ve been through, this is how they see the world, and here are some ways we can support them and understand them better. . .Over ten years I developed a set of tools that work. So now what I’m doing is sharing with parents and teachers the tools I developed on the ground.”

Click here to listen to the whole conversation.

Recommended reading: October 22nd, 2018

This week I have a rather eclectic mix of posts for you, with different windows on the experiences of expat and TCKs. Lots of emotions, raw experiences, and how to frame the things we go through.

Two Types of Cultural Adjustment
China Source
This short post explains that when we adjust to a new culture, we have to adjust both to the things that are strange to us, and also adjusting the things in ourselves that are strange to others! I also appreicate this explanation of adjustment as an ongoing process:
I’ve always found this definition to be helpful because of its focus on cultural adjustment being a process, not an event. As long as you are residing in a different culture, you will be adjusting, whether that length of time is two weeks or twenty years. There will never be a point at which you say (in totality), “there, I’ve adjusted.” As long as you are there you will be encountering things that are different and that require you to adjust either the way you behave or the way you think.

The thriving multicultural society of the UAE
Friday Magazine
A story about TCK best friends from different cultures. This is one of the fun parts of international life – meeting and learning from people of different backgrounds. For many TCKs this is a formative childhood experience that helps shape their understanding of the world. While the post overall has some peppy multicultural society success talk that I take with a large pinch of salt, the stories of these young TCK best friends is worth the read!
The four pairs of cross-cultural BFFs (best friends forever) we spoke to echo this…their friendship’s most teachable moments were when they realised that different ethnic and racial backgrounds, parenting methods they were raised with, lifestyles and even religions didn’t alter the unalloyed truth that they shared core values of honesty, respect, familial bonds and charity…Their shared values balance out their complex equation and maintains the friendly chemistry that first sparked between them as eight-year-olds.

Stupid Expat Days and How to Love Them
The Culture Blend
I’m not sure I’ve ever come across a Jerry Jones post I didn’t love. Somehow I managed not to share this one earlier – and I don’t want you to miss out! He talks about “Stupid Expat Days”- days that, as he says “expats have to live but normal people never do“. The sorts of crazy errands that just wouldn’t happen in your passport country, the hoops you have to jump because you aren’t a local – all those fun things. But as he talks through a recent particular Stupid Expat Day, Jerry begins to reframe the experience.
Normal people don’t GET to do this stuff. It was a holiday not a waste of time. Special expat father and expat son bonding, just me and him…Loving Stupid Expat Days is not simply putting a happy stamp on the hard stuff and it runs far deeper than just “looking on the bright side”. It was a long, long, long day but we found the best bits and we chose to hang out there. I love passport days and my hope is that because I choose celebration, even in the context of the irritation my kids will too.”

Becoming Madame: Realities of an expat life
Expatica
In this lovely post an expat talks about the specific experience of landing in a new country “with a completely blank slate before you”. This is different to the family or individual who takes a work assignment for a few years, because there is a sense of attached purpose, and a sponsor organiation behind the move. The blank slate is more like my own story, and she gives really great advice to those considering, or starting out, with this sort of experience. Sense of purpose, starting in a new language, needing humility, discovering more of yourself. It’s hard to choose a single quote to share here! But I think this is really important:
If you’re like me, you’ll know no one, not a single soul, when you walk off the plane. Periods of extreme loneliness are inevitable. The key is to get yourself out of your apartment and just keep going: get up each day, and get outside no matter how intimidating it is to walk into a world of confusing mumble-jumble all around you. Take baby steps, but just keep taking them.”

American Weirdness: Observations From an Expat
The Atlantic
This post hooked me in the first paragraph. How many expats have experienced that dazed shock, staring at the selections in a supermarket aisle after a long flight from Far Away? I had a panic attack one time. After that I learned to take a friend with me the first time I tried to go shopping after arriving!
Sometimes it begins with the toothpaste. Whenever I go back to the United States from Europe, where I’ve lived for more than half my adult life, I’ll often find myself in a jet-lagged fog at a huge American drugstore staring at the toothpaste aisle. Why? I ask myself, or anyone who’s around. Why are there so many kinds of toothpaste?

The Truth About Moving: Expat Anxiety…Insomnia and Ikea
Making Here Home
A touching post full of the raw feelings and experiences of starting again in a new place. The author is genuine and cheerful as she describes the inevitable problems and anxieties and lost things. And she concludes beautifully – with a reflection on what expat life gives, more than is lost.
I just think it’s true that the first few days always feel awkward and stuff goes wrong. Like you arrive in Germany on a Sunday and all the shops are shut and you can’t buy any food. Or you get to your new house and accidentally set off the alarm and have to explain to the security company that you do live here, you just don’t know any of the alarm codes yet…it’s no wonder our minds go on overdrive – there are so many things to do, to remember, to sort out, to avoid. It’s hard. And on top of that, there’s the pressure that we feel like we should be enjoying it…It takes a lot of courage to step outside your comfort zone and make your home in a new country.

Kosovo-Albanian pop artist Ilira talks debut single ‘Whisper My Name’ and the awkwardness of growing up as a ‘third culture kid’
MEAWW
This is an interview with a musician about her debut single. I noticed it because the artist is a TCK, and she mentions this in the interview. She describes music as a refuge she turned to to help her be herself in the midst of feeling misunderstood. I believe so very strongly in the power of the arts to help TCKs manage the stresses of international life, and process identity issues. Lovely to see this TCK sharing her experiences!
As a third culture kid, I’ve often felt misplaced with people mocking me for my dreams and aspirations. Music has been my safe haven ever since. It created a space for me where I was able to break free and grow.”

The hardest question for a third culture kid: Where is home?
PRI
Finally – something different. A podcast! Okay, I know I’m late to the party on this one, but I recently started listening to PRI podcast The World In Words – and imagine my delight when I stumbled on an episode in which they talk to a TCK about her experiences! There’s an interview with Ruth van Reken, and mention of their call turning into a personal therapy session of sorts – which totally sounds like the ever lovely Ruth. She’s amazing!