Listing countries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My own international tattoo story

When I wrote about TCKs and their tattoos last week it was hard to avoid noticing how many of the themes and comforts I was describing for tattooed TCKs also reflected my own tattoo experience. My tattoo doesn’t connect to a Third Culture childhood; it’s all about my young adult years in the Third Culture.

I’d been in living in China for nearly ten years when I started making plans to repatriate and undertake studies in Australia. I hadn’t lived in my passport country since I was 21, a full time student living at home with my parents and sister(s). There was a lot of emotion surrounding the decision, and the swiftly approaching new future. So I decided to really celebrate my ten year Chinaversary – a balance to the sadness of upcoming farewells a few months later.

As I reflected on marking my decade in China and preparing to leave the place that had been my home throughout my adult years, the idea of getting a tattoo starting creeping up on me. I’d never had any interest in getting a tattoo before this, but now the idea was insistent, and wouldn’t leave me alone. It took me a long time to decide what I wanted. I knew I wanted it to be in Chinese characters – connection to a place and a language that are very meaningful to me – but which ones? I felt that, as someone who can actually read and write Chinese, I should be somewhat complicated, to reflect my command of the language. But there was nothing that fit. It had to be something that would always be true, something that reflected the impact living in China had had on me.

The answer, when it came to me, was so simple I dismissed it for ages. My tattoo simply says 十年: “ten years”.

tcktat-me

Alongside those two simple characters was the other element I knew I wanted – a simple representation of red plum blossoms. There are so many reasons this is meaningful to me. China has four national flowers, one for each season, and plum blossoms are for winter. I’ve always had an affinity for winter; there are so many stories from my life attached to that concept. Red is also the classic lucky colour in China – good fortune, blessing, protection.

That’s the basic story, but in this post I want to go through the different elements I wrote about in last week’s post, and connect those general concepts to this specific tattoo. It’s a good way to illustrate how it all comes together in a real life situation. (I’ll be quoting from the original post on TCK tattoos as I go.)

“Some TCKs deliberately choose very obvious places for their tattoos, because when they are noticed, they give a reason to share part of their story. Others put them in less easily visible locations, to serve as a reminder that this part of their lives others don’t see is still real. Tattoos can serve as public identification, and as private consolation.”

I chose the location of my tattoo very carefully – I wanted to see it often, but I wanted the choice over whether anyone else could see it. I chose to place it on my right thigh, high enough that it rarely shows. When it is seen, the simple explanation that it says “ten years” for the ten years I lived in China is a nice thing to be able to share.

Most of the time, however, my tattoo serves as “private consolation”. During the first few months of overwhelming transition to life in Australia I was amazed at how much comfort it gave me to see those two simple characters etched on my skin. This life-changing experience – this whole other LIFE – really happened, even when no one around me knows or understands that.

“A tattoo representing a place a TCK feels a strong connection to gives them a TANGIBLE connection. A permanent mark. The place that is invisibly etched on their heart is now visibly etched on their skin. This can be an incredibly comforting thing. . . A tattoo in a language that is meaningful to a TCK gives them a permanent, tangible connection to that language – even if the place is far away, or their language abilities fade.”

Obviously, my tattoo has connections to both place and language. It’s literally counting the years I spent in a particular place, using the language of that place. A language I can read and write and speak – even though no one looking at me would expect me to be a Chinese speaker. There’s also the added element that I got the tattoo done in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the third place in the world that is very important to me. But underneath all that, my tattoo is much more of a value-based tattoo.

“Value-based tattoos often serve as reminders of values TCKs cherish and want to hold on to, no matter what the life they currently live looks like. They can serve as reminders of experiences they’ve had or lessons they’ve learned at different times in their international journeys.”

My tattoo is a reminder of a time that changed my life. A season of life in a particular place and language, yes, but what is more important to me is how that time (and place, and language) changed me. I am a different person because I spent those ten years in China. When I got the tattoo, I thought it unlikely I’d be living in China again, and certainly not any time soon. But I knew that even if I never went to China again, even if I never used the Chinese language in any meaningful way again, those ten years had marked me forever.

And that’s why it made sense, to me, for that to be a tattoo. The fact of those ten years will never change. My husband once joked that I might need to add an 二 eventually (to make it twenty years) and you know what, if I make it here that long I would consider it! But regardless, this current season of life in China is very different to my first ten years. Those first ten years were my young adult life – age 21 to 32. It’s not accurate to say I “grew up” here, but it feels true. Perhaps it’s better to say that China is where I came into my own. This is where I learned who I am, and who I want to be. This is where I made choices about my life’s direction – and created an utterly different life for myself than anything I’d previously imagined. This is where I began the work that has become my passion; this is where I wrote my book. This is where I met and got to know my husband (though when I got this tattoo I hadn’t expected us to stay in touch, let alone that I’d move back here to marry him only three years later!)

Shortly before I got my tattoo, I had to return a legal document to China. I was taken by surprise by the wave of melancholy that arose in me as I let it go! As I wrote at the time: “It symbolised the life I had lived in China; it was proof that that life really happened.” That’s exactly what my tattoo does – but permanently.

Moving to Australia, looking and (mostly) sounding like a normal Aussie, was a strange experience. In China, my dual connection was obvious. No one looking at me would mistake me as Chinese. But many people listening to me speak Chinese assumed I was – until they saw me! In Australia I don’t stand out. Don’t get me wrong, I really like being able to blend in! But it means that no one understands there’s this whole other side of me and my life, unless I specifically tell them. Coming home after a long day of transition and engaging with people, it was a big comfort to see those ten years branded on my skin.

In some ways I felt like Dorothy, finally home in Kansas after her adventures in Oz, no one knowing this other place existed, let alone how deeply it had marked her. But when I had those moments, I also had the comfort of a literal and physical mark on my body. Often I would stroke my tattoo, remembering that all of it was real. The 十年 on my skin reflects the ten years in my heart.

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

TCKs and their tattoos

A couple of times in the past two weeks I’ve stumbled into discussions on one particular topic: tattoos, and TCKs who get them. Over the years I’ve heard lots of tattoo stories from TCKs around the world. I’ve come across a lot of shared tattoo trends, and thought it was time to write a blog post to share what I’ve learned about TCK tattoos.

The TCK tattoo trends I’ve observed fall into three general categories, representing different connections: to places, to languages, and to values. Often these sorts of tattoos combine elements of all three.

Some TCKs deliberately choose very obvious places for their tattoos, because when they are noticed, they give a reason to share part of their story. Others put them in less easily visible locations, to serve as a reminder that this part of their lives others don’t see is still real. Tattoos can serve as public identification, and as private consolation.

“I have a sleeve involving all the flags of the countries I have lived in. It’s helped me have a better understanding of moving around and trying to find my place in everything.” – Noah

Connection to places

Part of the TCK experience is connecting to places – usually more than one place, usually at least one place where you are not legally connected (no passport), perhaps a place where you are visibly foreign, perhaps a place you haven’t been to in many years. Whatever the reason, it’s very common for TCKs to have at least one place they feel a strong connection to which is not seen as a legitimate connection by others. A place that feels like home, but which they don’t feel completely justified calling home.

A tattoo representing a place a TCK feels a strong connection to gives them a TANGIBLE connection. A permanent mark. The place that is invisibly etched on their heart is now visibly etched on their skin. This can be an incredibly comforting thing.

Examples of place tattoos I’ve come across include:

  • longtitude/lattitude or GPS coordinates
  • maps (a country/region outline, subway diagram, stylised road map, etc.)
  • a list of countries/cities
  • passport stamps
  • flags
  • symbols of place (a local flower, native animal, etc.)
  • location/s in which tattoos were inked (rather than the content of the tattoo)

“My tattoo is a Chile flag wraparound a heart. The meaning was my heart will always be for Chile. It’s a constant reminder that while I have left the country and the culture my heart still wants to be in Chile.” – Alicia

“The outline of your spirit is etched on my skin. The grid that runs through my blood.” – Lara

Connection to languages

Language is a huge part of how we communicate with each other, and therefore it’s unsurprising that we often have strong emotional ties to languages. A language-based tattoo highlights a TCK’s connection to a particular language. It can also bring multiple languages together.

Not all TCKs are multi-lingual. Some carry guilt, sadness, or regret over languages they don’t speak (or don’t speak as well as they think they “should”). Even those who do speak more than one language spend much of their lives compartmentalising each language to certain people and places.

A tattoo in a language that is meaningful to a TCK gives them a permanent, tangible connection to that language – even if the place is far away, or their language abilities fade.

Examples of langauge tattoos I’ve come across include:

  • a word/phrase from a language the TCK feels a connection to
  • a single word written in several langauges/scripts
  • their own name, in one or more different scripts
  • names of places in the language of that place
  • a quote from one culture written in the language of another culture

I have one that that means “to have found the place you call home” in Gaelic – very meaningful to carry a bit of home around with me on my arm!” – Iona

tcktat3

“After growing up in the city of 长春 in Northeast China from when I was 1-18 years old I decided to get this tattoo before I left as I did not know when or if I would ever be back.” – Daniel

Connection to values

Tattoos can also show the importance of certain values a TCK holds, values which may set them apart in certain settings. This is a category of tattoos that may not be location or language specific, but still connect closely to childhood experiences and emotional connections developed through international life. Those experiences create connections to certain concepts and values.

Value-based tattoos often serve as reminders of values TCKs cherish and want to hold on to, no matter what the life they currently live looks like. They can serve as reminders of experiences they’ve had or lessons they’ve learned at different times in their international journeys.

Examples of values tattoos I’ve come across include:

  • the value of having roots (shown with trees, or plants)
  • the value of travel (plane, airports, world map, compass)
  • cultural values
  • relationships (especially family)
  • “group” tattoos (where several closely connected people choose to get the same tattoo, expressing shared locations or values, as well as the importance of their relationships with each other)

“My tattoos are focused on what has impacted my life: my family, my Chinese origins, and Texas. I particularly love my Chinese Hanzi, which roughly translates to ‘loyalty to family’ with extremely strong character meanings. The placement was also carefully picked along the symbolic weakness of my Achilles tendon.” – Abigail

I had heard these sorts of stories and seen these sorts of tattoos for years before it became way more personal – because I got a tattoo of my own, combining all of the elements I’ve described here! It’s not something I talk about much, especially not publicly (mine definitely falls more in the private consolation category). But writing about this now – yep, it’s definitely time to tell my own tattoo story. So stay tuned for that next week!

Click here to read the story of my own international tattoo

Recommended Reading: July 9th, 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.

10 Alternatives to ‘Where are you from?’
Multicultural Kid Blogs
I love this!! “Where are you from?” is one of those questions that just roll of our tongues when we meet people. It’s not an easy question, for a lot of expats, and especially for TCKs. Yet it still takes effort to rewire our brains (and mouths!) to ask different questions. Also, I’ve found when I take the initiative to ask different questions, I get asked those sorts of questions in return. And I find them much easier to answer myself! I’ll add my own favourite to this list: “Where were you living before this?” It has a concrete answers, rather than a subjective one, while still offering an invitation to share some of their story.

But What’s So Different about Being an Expat Family, Anyway?
Velvet Ashes
Yet another helpful reflection from Rachel as her TCKs prepare to leave for university in their passport country. Her daughter wonders aloud how her life is different to that of peers in her passport country. What I love most is that while Rachel expresses some of the differences she sees, she also knows she can’t answer this question for her kids. She rests on the values their family holds close, and trusts that her kids will work it out as they live and grow.
I can’t explain to my twins how their childhood has affected them. They’ll need to discover the answer to that question on their own. I couldn’t begin to articulate one. I have ideas, but sometimes the only way to answer our deep questions is to experience a contrast, to set our question and our experience against something new, opposing, different.

Expat Homesickness – 3 Ways to Deal with it and Heal from it
Talaera Thoughts
This is a great post in which Stephanie reflects openly on her experience of culture shock, homesickness, and resulting depression. (And reminded me a little of my own post on expat homesickness.) She gives some great advice. I was particularly touched by the gentleness of her first point – to be your own parent. By this she means to speak kind and comforting words over yourself. This is so important!
My mom would never tell me to just “suck it up”! She would give me permission to feel sad and depressed. This is a crucial step because I need to allow myself the feeling before I ever stand a chance of extracting myself from the pain. . .If your mom was mean, be a kind and gentle version of your mom because she is what you need right now.

See, Say, Spell, Repeat
Mudroom
What do you do when you feel caught between cultures, and your name reflects one of those cultures strongly? Prasanta discusses her journey of identity and what’s in a name.
I was raised in the U.S., but you aren’t sure of that by looking at me. . . since we think and speak alike, I wondered if it would help to have a name that does sound like you. I thought it would be taking down a barrier — a big one — between us. I couldn’t change my skin color, which was Big Barrier #1. But, I could change this. Maybe it would make a difference. Maybe it would make it easier for you to talk to me. And admittedly, I wanted to make it easier for myself as well.

Territory and Third Culture Kids – Building our Safe Places
Life Story
Rachel was advised to keep her cat inside for a month after moving before letting her outside in order to help her with the transition. Rachel expands this concept to wonder how taking the time to fix ourselves in a place might give TCKs (and other global nomads) a sense of security so many seem to lack. Such a fascinating idea!
It is only because Jack knew her own home so well, that she was able to return to it safely at the end of the day. It was only because she’d spent so much time in it that she was able to feel it as her safe place. . .having home to run to is precisely what made out there safe to explore. . .Safe places are shelters. Shelters are, by nature, boundaried in some way. There is an out there and an in here. We use them to retreat from the elements, and their borders give us rest.

Expat reunions are a thing of wonder
The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide
A lovely post on the unique beauty (and deep emotion) of expat reunions. When you have the opportunity to spend time with someone who lived that part of your life with you, who knows those places and people, who you don’t have to explain those things to – wow. What a blessing!
Saying goodbye is hard because you really have no idea when, or if, you will see them again. But when you do – and I do believe the ones that are really important to you will pop up again sooner or later – you instantly connect again over the experiences that only you shared. . .As we move on with our lives, the memories of our expat days fade. But friendships will often out-last those memories and when we get together the years fall away and we are back living together in those distant lands.

Travel Is No Cure for the Mind
Medium
This post is a modern adaptation of Seneca’s letter to Lucilius about travel. The main point is that novelty gives way to routine no matter where we are; the solution is not a new place, but a new mindset. I found it helpful in a few ways. When people ask about your “exciting” or “exotic” life, it can help to explain that actually, you live an ordinary routine just like them, only in a different place. Also, the mindset advice is so key to enjoying life abroad – especially for those who weren’t too keen on making a particular move. Gratitude and curiosity are powerful tools!

Recommended Reading: July 2nd, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Reading: June 25th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Recommended Reading: June 18th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended reading: June 11th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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