Recommended Reading: July 16th, 2018

Welcome to this week’s edition of Recommended Reading! I don’t have a particular theme for this week. Instead, here’s a collection of posts I’ve read recently that I feel have something of value to offer expat and TCK communities around the world.

A Letter to the Stayers
Aylssa Cowell
I love this! We absolutely need to recognise the impact of STAYING in transient communities. Whenever I do transition seminars with students in international schools I ask how many times people have moved, how many schools they’ve attended – but I also ask how many close friends they’ve watched move away. Every time I ask that questions there are students who refuse to answer – too many to count. It’s a real and deeply difficult experience, and one that is often overlooked.
We don’t really talk about the emotional hardship, of the loss felt by those who stay. We know it is hard for those who leave. But for those who stay some of you will have lost 4, 5, 6, 7… countless people who were close to you. The school is the same but it’s not really the same. . .Look out for each other out there – if you are lucky enough to have your friends stay – look out for those who don’t. Invite them to sit with you. Say hello in the corridors. Ask them if they are okay. Our words are powerful and you should never underestimate the impact of a small gesture.

I Think It Is Okay to be an Alien
Velvet Ashes
What happens when you stand out in every situation, everywhere you’ve lived, your whole life? What happens when they places you consider home consider you an alien? Erika writes about making peace with her alien status. But I think what I appreciated most was how she so adroitly summed up the “misunderstood” feeling that undergirds much of my book:
As a third culture kid, I tried on many identities. Like most of my MK friends, I went through a “proud Canadian” phase, through a phase of “I’m from all of North America” and a “nothing but Mexican” phase. None of them worked. I found I could relate to people from all of these places, but none of them — not even family — could relate to all of me. And that made me alien.

My top tip for parenting through transition
Meet Jesus at uni
I was so touched by this piece! One mother articulates the guilt and struggle of seeing her young children wrestling to find a way through transition – again. “I do things to help them through transitions…Those things help, but they do not fix anything.” But then she remembers – “the normal initial adjustment period for humans after trauma or significant change is 6-8 weeks“. The best thing she can do is keep remembering that it’s going to get better – to relax and be patient and kind to herself and her kids as they adjust yet again. (Sounds like something I said recently!)
“This happens every time we do a transition. Between 4 and 6 weeks, things come to a head and I panic as I hurt for my little boys and the mama guilt overwhelms me. I wonder if the crisis versions of my sons are simply who they are now. But if I can remember that 8 weeks is our usual adjustment time, and if I can tolerate it until then, my little ones start to know themselves again. I just have to hang in there with them. And be ready to do it all again in the not-too-distant future.”

How Having A Name That No One Can Pronounce Taught Me Who I Really Am
Huffington Post
In last week’s recommended reading I included a piece in which the author reflected on wrestling with identity through her name – how it defined and separated her, especially when peers could not pronounce it. This piece shares a similar story: “I’ve always felt like a part of me was lost in translation. My name, so beautiful in my parents’ native Tamil, doesn’t quite fit my flattened American accent.” I really appreciate the telling of how her frustration shifted from one object to another over time. She ends by acknowledging the stress while embracing the different influences that make her who she is – name and all:
“Today, I still get a little shy before I introduce my name. I still stress out about the logistics.. But now, I️ understand that I’m not Indian or American, but both. I might be a product of my ancestors, but I am also the speaker of my own name“.

The New 11 Commandments of Relocating Overseas
International School Community
Good piece with solid advice for those who will be relocating abroad. There’s a lot of overlap with things I suggest in my Six Tips for a Good Transition. One piece of advice from this post I particularly appreciated was the suggestion of combining old and new – mixing new experiences with familiar comforts. What a great approach! “try to combine an appreciation of new cuisine and dishes with some of your old dietary staples.” My summary of these “11 commandments” is as follows: Be positive, be flexible, be teachable, be lighthearted, be understanding. Expect the adjustment to take a long time. Look for encouragement and comfort – both here and there. Lean on supports.

Forbidden Roots
A Life Overseas
I was deeply touched by this piece which boldly faces the problem that comes with putting down roots in an adopted home: one day, I will have to leave the place I have made my home.
I am not a citizen, or even an immigrant. My passport is still American blue; Tanzania is not my country…Yet the thought of leaving someday fills me with an intense grief, knowing that it will tear away part of my being. Not just a loss of place, but a loss of who I am. The experience has become real life. Which is a good thing, of course. It’s what every expat should want to attain. But it’s also a tragic thing. It’s like coming to the realization that I’ve fallen in love with something that I can’t keep.

Dig Deep and Shine On
I Am A Triangle
A hopeful and encouraging post about the ongoing need to build relationships when you live a life full of transition.
Eighteen months into my repatriation and new home, new perspective washes over me…I’m in a new place, making new friends (some are international friends) and loving new experiences. AND, it’s taken eighteen months! Over these past months to learn, grow and dig deep, I’ve made friends, added life experiences, and taken several trips. . .One of my people secrets is say “hello” to anyone within three feet of me. Some will return the “hello” and some may not. My personally coined mantra: people are faces until they’re your friends.

Sri Lankan expat enchanted by Ramadan in UAE
Gulf News
And finally, a little piece I appreciated, in which a Sri Lankan expat reflects on his first Ramadan in the UAE. Going from a muslim minority culture to a muslim majority culture made it a very different experience for him: “It gives a sense of togetherness as everyone becomes part of our fasting, iftar and suhour.

Six Tips for a Good Transition

Last week I wrote about change and transition. I explained that while change is an event, transition is a process – and a very difficult process at that. We lose all our automatics and have to re-learn how to live life in a new way.

In this post I’m going to share my six tips for a good transition. They aren’t difficult or complicated. Mostly they revolve around recognising that we need extra time and care during a time of transition. Unfortunately, this is something we struggle with! We want to do and be busy and fix things. But while we do need the forward momentum of this activity, if we only ever push through the chances are the stress we ignore will catch up with us eventually. Doing transition slowly, with care and kindness, is healthier in the long term.

Now, without further ado, here are my six tips!

Tip for Transition #1: Remember, transition is hard.

Recognise that transition is big, and hard. Understand that it will take time and energy to do well. And probably more of both than you’d like. If you find yourself struggling after a big change, that’s not just okay, it’s totally normal! It’s difficult to re-learn how to do normal things, and re-write all your brain’s automatic choices. The hardest part is that so much of what makes a big transition difficult is invisible. It’s all those little things, things that people around you don’t notice. Things that you yourself might not consciously recognise. Making lists of changes, thinking through all the ways life has changed, or will change, is helpful because it makes you more aware of what it is that you’re going through.

Tip for Transition #2: Be patient and kind to yourself.

When you understand that transition is hard, that it takes time and energy, it is easier to be patient with yourself as you go through it. When you look at the people around you and wonder why life seems harder for you – remember that, first, you don’t know what anyone else is dealing with inside, and second, that transition takes extra energy. You won’t have the capacity you’re used to – you’ll get less done, your brain will feel foggy, or you’ll feel emotional and overwhelmed. Maybe, like me, you’ll experience all of those things! And that’s okay. Be patient with yourself. You’ll be yourself again one day, it just takes time. Instead of getting frustrated with yourself, stop and recognise that you’re doing something difficult, and choose to be kind to yourself. And be patient with the process of settling into a new life, which will likely take a lot longer than you’d like.

Tip for Transition #3: Persevere – do hard things.

Once you get into a new routine, and fill your new life with new relationships and new activities, things will get easier. Yes, transition is hard. Yes, you need to be patient with yourself and kind to yourself. But you also need forward movement. Sometimes things happen naturally and automatically. Sometimes they don’t. In any case, it’s unusual for your new life to simply snap into place; it will probably take time, and effort, on your part. So persevere.

Start building the connections that will eventually form your support network. Accept invitations, go to events, ask that person if you can catch up for coffee. And when you feel discouraged, that you’re not getting anywhere, that nothing is like it was, remember to keep going. Things will get better eventually.

Tip for Transition #4: Leave space to be sad.

Change involves loss, and transition is the process of adjusting to change. That means transition also involves grief – processing losses such as a place, a community, a position in that community, particular people, your place in your family, your identity as a person who knows things, and so much more. It hurts to lose things. That’s natural, but it’s not fun. Understandably, a lot of us try to avoid unpleasant feelings like sadness and grief. But during a time of transition we benefit from space to be sad about what has been lost.

So yes, go out there and do hard things, create new routines and relationships – but alongside all that good hard work out there, leave space to do the hard work inside. (Similar to the “water work” I linked to in this week’s Recommended Reading.) Let yourself have a few pockets of time in which to stop, feel the sadness, and the tiredness. Acknowledge that those feelings exist, that they are real. Do whatever works for you to let those feelings out. It doesn’t matter what you do, what matters is that you create that space, that your feelings are expressed rather than suppressed.

Tip for Transition #5: Maintain old friendships.

This might seem counterintuitive. Aren’t we supposed to ‘move on’? Won’t hanging onto the past make it harder? Well, yes and no. During a big transition the need for support is higher than normal, but there may not be much support available in the new environment. Even if you make good friends quickly, it takes time to build up the level of closeness you enjoy with existing friends.One of the best ways to transition well, therefore, is to lean on your established relationships while you’re starting out.

It is so helpful to remember that there are people elsewhere in the world who really do know you and appreciate you and are there to support you – especially if you don’t have friends like that in your new location yet. An important thing to keep in mind, however, is that online relationships are qualitatively different to in-person relationships. Try to think of long-distance support as scaffolding that will hold you together while you build up the foundations of a new support network in your new location.

Tip for Transition #6: Seek professional support.

Flight crews run through a safety demonstration on every flight while the plane is still on the ground. They want to make sure people know what to do if there ever is an emergency, but they don’t wait for an emergency to occur before giving out that information. In the same way, I think it is really helpful to look into professional support services even if you don’t think you need them. Know what resources are out there and how to access them so that if a situation comes up, you already know what to do.

Often we think about medical resources – where is the hospital, finding a new doctor, looking into whatever specialists we may have need of. Some families are also proactive about looking into educational support. But the main support I urge families to look into are mental health services. This is something few of us think to consider until we are already in crisis. Also, as with most things, prevention is cheaper and easier than cure – so you may want to consider how support services like counselling could help you find and maintain balance that will prevent a crisis situation occuring. There are lots of good options for expatriate focussed professional counselling these days, including counsellors who do online session via video chat, which are really helpful for a lot of people.

So that’s my six tips for a good transition. The bottom line? Transition is hard! So give yourself a break, and take advantage of any help you can find to make the journey easier.

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

Change, transition, and why it’s hard

The past six months have been an insane season of transition for me. Comically enough, as I’ve been taking up speaking engagements in various countries the number one topic I’ve been engaged to speak on has been – you guessed it – transition. And now, of course, the northern hemisphere is in the throes of transition season – many people are moving on to new locations, and many more are watching them leave.

Transition is everywhere – all around us. But what is transition?

I find it helpful to contrast change and transition. They are related, but different.

Change is an event.

Transition is a process.

Change is an event. It is the moment in time when I go from this to that, here to there. It is when I leave, when my friend leaves me, when I start at a new school or new job, move into a new home. Transition is the process of anticipating and integrating that change.

As I wrote in Misunderstood:

Change is physical – a new location, a person who is physically absent. Transition is the process of handling the emotional fallout of physical changes

Change

Change is concrete. We can see it happen. We know what it is. But we still often underestimate the full impact of a change. One change is usually made up of a series of smaller changes. Perhaps hundreds of changes! And a big change, like moving locations, has multiple changes involved, each of which is made up of smaller changes.

For example, if I move to a new country, I experience a series of changes:

  • A new house
  • A new school/workplace
  • A new culture, and possibly a new language
  • A new environment
  • A new set of friends/acquaintances
  • A new way of living life

But each of these big changes is made up of a lot of smaller changes. For example, I often ask students to list the changes that are part of starting at a new school. They include:

  • How to get there – walk? ride a bike? bus? parent drop off?
  • What to wear – is there a uniform? what type?
  • What to eat – is lunch provided? do I bring my own?
  • Friends – the people you spend your whole day with
  • Environment – where do I play/hang out?
  • School layout – no longer familiar
  • Teaching style
  • Behaviour expectations
  • Language may be different, even it’s a different dialect of the same language (UK English vs American English, Argentine Spanish vs Colombian Spanish, etc.)

When I start at a new school, I am not experiencing one change – I am processing many different pieces of the new situation which are different. The same goes for a new house, a new neighbourhood, a new job, a new relationship – a new anything, really!

Transition

Transition is the process of adapting to change. A period of transition begins as soon as I know a change is coming. As soon as I learn that I’ll be changing schools, or as soon as my friend tells me she’s moving away – at that point my transition has begun. This means some transitions begin a long time before the change occurs. Sometimes a transition can actually begin AFTER a change, because I may not learn the change has happened until after the fact.

A period of transition continues until I am accustomed to and comfortable with my post-change life – when I have integrated those changes and my situation changes from “new” to “normal”.

As you might imagine, sometimes this can take a long, long time.

One of the problems many of us have with transition is we don’t accept how long the process can take. Adjusting to a new normal takes a lot of time, and in that period of transition life is a bit more difficult. Berating myself for not keeping up, pushing myself to “get over it”, or thinking there’s something wrong with me, only makes things harder.

Losing our automatics

One important unseen change that goes with any big change is that all the automatics are erased. In a new situation I don’t automatically know where to go, what to do, who to talk to, how to get things done. Everything I do requires deliberate thought and conscious effort.

Want to get dinner? Okay. How?

Want to cook? Okay. Where do you buy groceries in your new location? Are the same groceries available, or do you need to adapt? Do you have the language and currency required to buy groceries? Is the system of collecting and paying for groceries different to what you’re used to? Do you have the same cooking equipment avaialable, or do you need to learn to use a different kitchen? After sorting all this out, do you still have the energy to cook??

Want to order in? Okay. Who delivers in your new location? Is it food you’re familiar with, or will you need some guidance to order effectively? Do they use a language (and dialect) you’re familiar with? Do they require the use of apps or online payment – and do you have access to these? If they require cash on delivery – do you have enough local currency?

Want to go out to eat? Okay. Do you know any places to eat? Are they walking distance? Will you be comfortable walking (weather/safety/health)? If not, do you have transport? Then when you’re there you have all the same questions – familiarity, language, payment. ..

This is why a period of transition can be so very tiring.

Not everything will be this complicated – but they can be. If you move to a place where things are done very differently to the way you’re used to, almost everything can be this hard. Life in these big transitional phases is exhausting!

It takes much more time and mental energy to get simple things done, because they aren’t simple any more – and it will take time to learn the new ways to do things, and for basic tasks to become familiar and, eventually, simple once more.

Something I often struggle with during a period of transition is learning my new calming strategies – what will help me find peace, relax, enjoy life. The things I can do in Sydney, for example, are very different to the things I can do in Beijing. Many of the old options simply aren’t available to me any more – I have to find new ones. More than that, I have to create new ones. This is can be difficult and tiring and, more importantly, time consuming. I might try something, realise it doesn’t work, and have to start again trying something new.

So what do we do?

Next week I’ll share my Six Tips for a Good Transition. The sneak peek, however, is simply to be kind to yourself. Work to adapt to change, but be patient with the process.
Acknowledge that transition is hard, and takes time, and be okay with not being at your best for a while – and probably for longer than you’d like!

A revealing review of Misunderstood

misundertood-3d-cover.jpgRecently Expat Bookshop published a lovely review of Misunderstood by Youth Intercultural Transition Specialist Jane Barron of Globally Grounded.

Jane does a great job of explaining what Misunderstood is: who it’s for, what material is covered, and the flow of the content.

What struck me most about her review, however, is how she went to the heart of the intent with which I wrote.

What sets this book apart from others in the global transition genre is the way Tanya brings research, perspective and solutions together. She identifies the challenge, fear or feeling “many TCKs believe others cannot, or will not, understand,” then underpins it with research and wisdom from experts in the field and articulates it using anecdotes from TCKs and Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs). For each challenge, Tanya provides solutions and strategies for parents/ caregivers to support their TCK, so those challenges do not become traumatic but instead serve as springboards for growth.

She’s hit the nail on the head here. I wholeheartedly believe in the many advantages and opportunities that go with an international childhood. I am also all too aware of the corresponding challenges. My goal is to equip carers (and TCKs themselves) with tools, and a perspective, that will help them tackle those challenges effectively – so they aren’t left as speed bumps to trip them up, or land mines coming back to create trouble later on.

But the most striking part of Jane’s review was her clear understanding of the book’s title. I had planned to write a blog post of my own talking about this – but maybe I don’t need to anymore!

The title of the book, Misunderstood, may lead readers to assume the contents are negative in nature but in fact it is very balanced. This word, misunderstood, was repeated over and over in interviews and conversations Tanya had with TCKs yet the book provides an insight into the heads, hearts and souls of children growing up overseas to dispel any misunderstanding. It bridges the gap between TCKs feeling misunderstood and adults trying to understand. TCKs reading this book will identify with the words ‘spoken’ by other TCKs and perhaps find a vocabulary to express their emotions and find a sense of belonging. Parents, educators and other caregivers will gain the understanding TCKs desperately need and want in order to encourage, equip and support them to “develop into emotionally mature adults,” either abroad or at home. Misunderstood is a book of hope and one I would highly recommend for all TCKs and those who care for them.

Yes, yes, and YES. I felt strongly that the title “Misunderstood” was the best way to stay true to the stories that were entrusted to me by hundreds of TCKs. But that title is not a curse, and it is not the way things must inevitably be. It is instead a starting point: that of stopping to acknowledge the way so many TCKs (young and old) feel, or have felt, as a result of their international childhood experiences. To understand TCKs, we must first listen to them, to their stories. We must stop to hear their feelings – even if they are uncomfortable. Only then can we begin to move from misunderstanding to understanding. Yes, Misunderstood is intended to be a book of hope – that no TCK need always be misunderstood, and that non-TCKs really can learn to understand how TCKs see the world.

Read Jane’s full review on Expat Bookshop.

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.

 

My visit to the International School of Tanganyika in Dar es Salaam

I spent last week working with students, parents and staff at the International School of Tanganyika in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I really enjoyed my time there. I was warmly welcomed and had interesting conversations with a lot of people.

I appreciated the school’s efforts to farewell each student who leaves, and welcome new students. The primary school has boards with photos of each student arriving and leaving, along with a little information. I loved seeing children’s handwritten notes describing what they would miss. I had conversations with teachers who described different cross cultural issues that arise and ways they are trying to understand and address the individual students involved. I spent time with librarians working hard to make diverse and helpful resources available for children of all ages. I talked with parents who see some of the difficulties that come with the international life their children experience, and are trying hard to understand and support their kids the best they can.

I particularly enjoyed spending an hour with the Tanzanian teachers aides at the primary school. We talked about culture, cross cultural issues, and how this works in a classroom setting. They offered great insights into the cultural differences they notice in the international school setting, and shared stories of ways they have seen young children wrestle with this. I was able to encourage in them the benefit their different cross cultural insights bring to a cross cultural classroom.

This is one of the things I love best about what I do. I love coming alongside – providing encouragement and resources to parents and teachers who are doing their best and trying to do better. I hope to offer comfort abc reassurance to parents who feel weighed down by guilt that they aren’t getting it right, or that they have burdened their children with the negative aspects of international life. Yes, there are difficulties, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad! As children grow and learn to integrate their experiences, to appreciate the good without ignoring the bad, the vast majority sure thankful for what they gained through a less ordinary upbringing.

I also love spending time with young CCKs – hearing their stories and giving them tools for the journey they’re on. I always feel the weight of their stories – what a privilege it is when a young person shares with me something that matters to them.

I spent time with all the grade 4-10 students at IST, each group doing one of three workshops I offer on storytelling, transition, and grief. In each group, through different questions, I was privileged to hear dozens of stories of these young people’s experiences with change, loss, and identity. Different groups reacted strongly to different prompts. One 8th grade group had a long discussion (almost a debate, back and forth) or whether it’s harder to say goodbye or say hello. Lots of groups really engaged with the question: “have you ever been unable to say goodbye to someone?” Stories poured out of them – about friends leaving without warning, of relatives or close family friends passing away in a different country, of thinking they had more time. One 5th grader spoke about a friend who left in kindergarten and how he never found out what happened.

These stories mark our kids. The regular loss of friends is part of the pattern of life they learn through childhood.

Rainbows and rivers by 7th grade students

Rainbows and rivers by 7th grade students

Hearing pieces of their stories through drawings and poems was another highlight. They brought different countries and languages and loves together into colourful rainbows, unique rivers, and evocative poetry. I’m always surprised at the depth of insight that can come from seemingly simple exercises. It was a delight to see these windows into their experiences. To hear a single poem with different verses written in different languages – the appropriate language for each place that is part of “home”. To watch children read with delight a poem in a mother tongue they rarely get to share with their classmates – and then watch them receive a warm round of applause. No one understood the words, but they all recognised their significance.

Rainbows and hearts by 4th grade students

Rainbows and hearts by 4th grade students

As I said, I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I’m still travelling and visiting schools, so stay tuned for more thoughts after I’m back in Beijing!

Recommended reading: April 9th, 2018

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Now that I’m getting back into the swing of thinking and writing in the TCK/expat space, I’m also doing more reading around the internets. Here’s some of the best stuff I’ve read lately.

Alone in a Crowd (Again) — The Second Wave of Expat Isolation
The Culture Blend
Such an important post by the always great Jerry Jones. I’ve seen this pattern in my own expat life and in so many friends’ experiences. There’s great advice here for the expat who feels alone after all their friends have left. Again. “The inevitable cycles of a cross-cultural life naturally bring seasons of deep connection and unexpected isolation — if you’re feeling stuck in that — try something unnatural. Intentionality moves the needle.”

Unresolved Grief – Hidden Losses of a Third Culture Kid
Jezmeralda
Poignant reflections on the hidden griefs that come with international life, especially as a child. “My lifestyle brings the wildest opportunities; nonetheless, unresolved grief has been one of my main challenges along the way.” I particularly appreciate that she addresses the difficulty of processing grief when “there are no recognized ways to mourn these hidden losses – primarily because most people don’t see them.”

Taking the Hypocrisy out of Home Ministry Assignment
A Life Overseas
This is an important discussion for the mission world, by fantastic MK advocate Michéle Phoenix. She tackles the pressure many missionaries feel to present a perfect face when visiting on home assignment – and the negative consequences this has for their TCKs.

An Overseas Assignment: Are You Doing the Right Thing By Your Kids?
Globally Grounded
Great piece by Jane Barron from Globally Grounded discussing lessons she’s learned from various greats as well as her own experience. She goes through three important things for expat parents to know/do in order to strengthen their families. The short answer to the titular question is that creating a strong family is what is best for your kids, wherever you are. A strong and healthy family unit who communicate well support kids through the difficulties of life – whether at home or abroad.

The Other Expats: Chukwudi Barrah – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The Black Expat
Great interview with Nigerian expat Chukwudi Barrah in Malaysia, who started a platform for the “Other Expats”. I really appreciated his insights, and saw similarities with things African friends have experienced in China. It’s a good read, and always so important to remember that there are many different expat experiences out there.

The Hierarchy of World Language – My experiences from the expat trail
And Then We Moved To
An old post, but new to me. Linguistics is one of my fascination topics, and I love this post from the perspective of a multilingual expat family and how EIGHT different languages are part of their shared global experience. Mariam mentions the “majority language outside, minority language inside” rule which I’ve come across in other multilingual families and find a really helpful tool. She also learned German in a direct method classroom (where only the target language is spoken) which is something I found daunting but extremely when helpful learning Mandarin in China.

Even if you’ve forgotten the language you spoke as a child, it still stays with you
Quartz
Another post on language, this time from a few months back. The piece talks about first language attrition – losing full command of your mother tongue. The discussion ranges from the emotional consequences, to what’s happening in the brain, and the journey to recapture a language you were once fluent in.

Amphibians, Chameleons, and Cross Cultural Kids
Communicating Across Boundaries
A lovely little piece by the ever wonderful Marilyn Gardner, reflecting on “amphibians” and cross cultural kids: “Cross cultural kids can be active negotiators – taking both sides of a story and finding space for agreement. It can be a lonely space, but it’s a vital one.”

How knowledge about different cultures is shaking the foundations of psychology
The Conversation
Interesting piece pointing out the impact of culture on psychological studies, and our understanding of human psychology. “Clearly culture has a massive effect on how we view ourselves and how we are perceived by others… The question is to what extent it will inform psychology as a discipline going forward – some see it as an extra dimension of it while others view it as an integral and central part of theory making.”

The unending season of transition

Miusunderstood was published in August 2016. The two years leading up to its publication were a crazy torrent of transitions – moving from Beijing, to Phnom Penh, to Sydney. Leaving the job I’d been in for four year to begin three years of graduate study. Going from expat to local – and my first time living in my passport country as an adult. Riding the rollercoaster of repatriation while studying an intensive full time program, living in community with a lot of new people, and completing my book. If you ever need proof that I’m crazy, that last sentence is basically it.

When the book came out, I thought I would finally relax. I could focus on study, get involved more in my local area, actually finish settling into my new life in Australia. Little did I know what the next 18 months held for me…

Shortly before Misunderstood was released, I visited Beijing for a week – a last minute, hardly planned trip. I expected Beijing to feel different, that it wouldn’t feel so much like home any more, that I would be able to let go. I had no intention of moving back to Beijing. I had a list of reasons I thought made it very unlikely, and possibily unwise. But as soon as I arrived I felt like I was home. I felt comfortable in a way I hadn’t in the nearly two years since I’d left. I was taken by surprise at my deep and almost visceral reaction. It wasn’t about the community I’d left, though I loved reconnecting with friends there. It was my connection to Beijing itself – its sights, smells, and other peculiarities. Instead of letting go of the place that had been important to me, I found it grabbing hold of me. I was completely unprepared for the strength of those emotions.

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Amazing how simple scenes can have an emotional impact…

Another surprise was reconnecting with an old friend – someone I’d once been very close to, but hadn’t spoken to in years. I remember talking to him about the way I was reacting to Beijing, how I suddenly didn’t want to leave – and might have had trouble getting on the plane back to Australia if I didn’t have a good friend’s wedding to attend when I got there! But that I still considered this a “farewell tour” of sorts. I had no idea when I might be back again, but was fairly certain I wouldn’t live there again, certainly not any time soon.

Fast forward 21 months: we’re now married and living in Beijing.

Every time I think I have it down, the crazy twists and turns of life, the knowledge that the unexpected is the most likely to happen – nope! I’m still hopelessly unprepared for all the changes thrown at me.

After Misunderstood was published, I began an unexpected career as an international speaker. In the past year I’ve spoken to groups in Australia, China, Ireland, France, and in a few days I’m leaving for Tanzania and Sudan. This all happened while finishing my degree, including working on a thesis with more original TCK research. Somewhere in the middle of that I got engaged, adding international wedding planning and an international move to my list of transitions to plan and process.

Now, just to really throw me off course, I visited Beijing again. This time, instead of feeling at home, I felt off centre. In the year between visits I had finally started to feel at home in Australia, and now felt out-of-step with Beijing. More friends had moved away, and I stayed in a part of the city that was new to me. It was disappointing, and unsettling, but at least gave me warning of the magnitude of the transition I was embarking on. Leaving Australia was difficult, and arriving in Beijing felt uncomfortable. I never second guessed my choice, and I am feeling much more at home here now, but it wasn’t easy.

There has been so much change in my life in the past few months. I’ve stayed in 12 different places in the past 4 months, always moving my suitcases with me. Africa will be my 5th continent in 3.5 months – although this time I have a home to come back to afterward! Everything I’ve ever written and presented on transition (and change, loss, grief, and repatration) has become sharper and clearer for me. Keynoting a transition conference for high school seniors soon to graduate (and, for many, repatriate) while going through all these transitions myself was poignant – requiring me to stop, reflect, and address what I too was experiencing.

Transition isn’t fun, but it is part of the price we pay in order to move forward, to grow, to become.

Given where I am now, despite the bumps and uncertainties, it is most definitely a price worth paying.

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