Four for 14 – TCK New Year’s Resolutions

Resolutions.  Love them or hate them, January is the time of year when we most hear about this particular form of goal setting.  I personally think any time is a good time to reflect a bit on ourselves and come up with some possible areas for self-improvement, but tradition dictates that the beginning of the year is particularly apropos.  So, in keeping with traditions, I thought I would post four possible New Year’s Resolutions for Third Culture Kids.

Emphasis is on the possible.  Who am I to tell people what or how they need to change?  And, as a counselor, I know the reality that people are not very likely to change unless they are invested in and desire the change, regardless of what you tell them.  So I guess the point here is to just draw attention to some of the areas that can be challenges for Third Culture Kids. Because often knowledge is the first step to change.

1. Embrace your restless and adventurous spirit, but challenge yourself to linger in the here and now a bit more than is your comfort zone.

Many third culture kids have changed countries as often as Lady Gaga has changed costumes.  Their norm becomes moving and change.  When much of their formative years revolves around packing up and shipping out, it’s very common and easy to develop a restless spirit, with one foot headed out the door.  They begin to weigh the cost of investing too much time and effort when the setting and faces are just going to change when their assignment draws to an end.

So it is great practice for Third Culture Kids to become “mindful” of the exact moment they are in,  and to invest in and work through issues with the people currently in their lives. Instead of looking to what they’ve left behind or where they are heading next.  Mindfulness is a great all-around life technique that encourages awareness, acceptance and thankfulness of where a person is at that particular moment, and can be particularly helpful for Third Culture Kids to learn more about and practice.

2. Accept a definition of “home” that is not the norm for many, and include in this definition, people for whom the definition is also not the norm.

Third Culture Kids always grapple with their own version of a four letter word: home.  And the reason behind this is their definition is not the ideal that was painted by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. When I was a counseling intern at an international school, I asked my middle schoolers where “home” was for them.  Many mentioned Vienna, but then would add “but I was born in…or also lived in, or have a passport from…”. There are lots of “buts” and “ands” that go along with a Third Culture Kid’s definition of home, so the answer is never easy.

When I attended my daughter’s college orientation this summer, I grappled with this when the college students who were assisting were being introduced. ” So and so is from Holland, or Ohio, or New Jersey or Austria ” My  daughter is from all of those places. She shows an interest in working as one of these orientation assistants, and I can’t help thinking how they will introduce her. With this kind of complication, one thing is true time and again.  Third Culture Kids feel at “home” with other Third Culture Kids who get this ambiguity to the word “home”.  This is the “Third” culture that they feel a part of and can relate to.

3. Learn to label your emotions and accept that they can be mixed.

I’ve written before about the grief of hidden loss that can be a reality for our kids.  With so much change, sadness and loss is inevitable, and when caring adults try to smooth over it by moving right over the pain and negative to get to the positive, it can leave a lot of important emotions buried.  As a result, depression can become part of this lifestyle.

It’s helpful to encourage Third Culture Kids to label and name their emotions. Give them the names for sadness, anger, frustration, fear, worry, grief, and more.  I didn’t learn very well how to label emotions, and found myself printing out a list when I first was learning to be a counselor.  I started highlighting words that fit when I was feeling emotions that I couldn’t quite come to terms with, and found this to be a helpful tool for use with students, as well.  It’s also important to make it clear that people can feel different emotions at the same time: excited to move, but sad to leave behind friends; happy that they met a new friend, but annoyed that they have to start from the beginning yet again.

4. Applaud your resilience and highlight your strengths.

People have a tendency to put much more emphasis on the negative than the positive.  It might be a left-over fight or flight reaction to aid in survival and encourage protection, but boy can we stew over that one mistake rather than patting ourselves on the back for all we’ve done well. There’s one big bonus to being a Third Culture Kid that deserves continuous pats on the back. Third Culture Kids are resilient.  They’ve had to be. They’ve  had to adapt many times, in many ways, to many people, situations, languages, customs…and the list continues.

When things are getting challenging, I would wager that most Third Culture Kids have a plethora of “I handled this” or “I was able to manage this” scenarios from which to call.  They need to highlight those.  Often.  Third Culture Kids can be encouraged to make a list, and nothing is too small or insignificant.  They may scoff that the fact they were able to somehow order food in a country where they had no language skills is nothing, but to a lot of people, that would be a big something.  Third Culture Kids get so used to doing so much of this problem solving, that they discredit it.  I’m speaking to TCKs now when I say, “Credit it!”  You have had amazing experiences that have included numerous times where you made a mistake or had a hardship and were able to bounce back. That’s a perk of the Third Culture Kid lifestyle. And, quite honestly,  that’s great training for life.

So Happy 2014 to all TCKs and TCK supporters.  Here’s hoping you might find something worthwhile in these resolution possibilities.  And all the best for this year and always.

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