A TCK Talk with the Experts: Transitioning “Home” and to College

I recently wrote my College Time for TCKs post from a parent’s perspective as I readied and tried to prepare my daughter for the transition to her “home” country for college.  As I was writing about reading a book together on the best ways to prepare, I realized I would love to hear from some of the experts on this experience, first-hand.  So I contacted a group of recently graduated TCKs, who had made their way to college, to gain their insights and advice.  They had some incredibly perceptive information to share, and also, addressed issues that I would never have thought of.

Results are still coming in, but I decided to share some of the insights and tips from the experts as I receive them.  What I realized from the initial readings, is that, just as TCKs are unique individuals, so are their transitions to university. Here are some of the varied insights I’ve received so far:

Connor surprised me by finding his University’s academic environment challenging in his transition.  Not that it was too demanding, but, in fact, the opposite.  Depending on the caliber of the international schools that TCKs are leaving behind, according to Connor, the first semester of taking general education core classes can result in some boredom. He suggested trying to vary your classes and not being afraid to explore.  “Don’t be afraid to take a class that has absolutely nothing to do with what you want to study,” he said.  He has taken a couple courses out of his major concentrations that he has really enjoyed and found to be useful to later life.

Tyler and Ryan both mentioned being at a disadvantage without a driver’s license.  Coming from an area with great public transportation, the need for individual wheels to get around was something new for them. They had to rely on others for rides, which didn’t always work out and could restrict their social options.

Tyler also found it challenging to navigate the U.S. social scene, especially dealing with alcohol. After living in a country where the legal age for alcohol consumption was 16, the college mentalities of “alcohol is everywhere; we need to drink” and “I don’t like people who drink alcohol” were neither a match for him and he found himself somewhere in the middle ground on this issue.

Another area that was difficult for both of these boys was the different classroom atmosphere and different values for education.  After a small school with the majority of students being respectful of teachers and dedicated to academics, being in classroom settings where people talk to others or on their cell phones during lectures, talk back to teachers, and more, was an adjustment.

It should be said that Ryan actually returned to the U.S. while in his last years of High School. The biggest challenge for him, which I found really interesting, was his perception that adults didn’t trust him anymore.  “They expected everyone my age to be immature.  I was offended when I was talked to like I was a child or with a condescending tone.”

He found that college transition was easier because everyone is new, had varying backgrounds and experiences and was open to meeting others.  He also said colleges focus on integrating their new students.

He found it difficult to share coping skills as he realizes all people cope differently, but offered the following words of wisdom, “What worked for me in the end was being genuine.  I kept true to my values, did not give in to peer pressure, and was greatly rewarded in the end…  Finding the few people I could relate to and keeping in close contact with my international friends was also crucial.  They are the only people who can relate to the experiences I’ve had.  Others have no Idea.”

Tyler also offered some sound advice to overcoming the social and classroom challenges. “Get involved in organizations on campus, because they will help you subconsciously get integrated into the new system faster than if you try and adjust by yourself.  Also, try and meet as many people as you can the first few weeks, as the people you first meet or live with may not be the perfect fit for you.  I have really close friends from my first weeks at college.”

As for the classroom challenges, Tyler suggested, “Talk with your professors either after class or at their office if you have concerns with the class. Also, make sure to speak up in class.  Many professors enjoy hearing the point of view or experiences of TCKs, as they are not the majority of students.”

Authors note:  Being a mother of young women, I realize this article is male dominated.  I did send to various female contacts, but, as of yet, have not heard back from them.  I’ll continue to try to get female persepectives and encourage any comments, especially from female TCKs. Thanks!


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