Going the Distance

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Turkish Tea for Two

Last month I wrote about the perks of experiencing local life while living overseas as a TCK or TCK family member. This month, I’m going to address the benefits that come from crossing your “homeland” borders and experiencing other countries and cultures.

Our school community in Vienna just returned this week after fall break. Fall break is another one of the benefits we’ve enjoyed with our kids going to an international school. It’s been great to have a week off in October to give students and families time to regenerate, explore, and experience some time away from the busy schedules that come with a demanding school load. Some fall breaks we’ve enjoyed include a historical visit to Normandy and a Mediterranean Cruise. This year, we celebrated some incredible spouse-focused time celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary in Istanbul, Turkey, while our youngest daughter gained independence and fluency on a Spanish trip to Cardiz, Spain.

Such travel, and here, I emphasize travel separate from parents, has been one of the biggest benefits our children, now young adults, have received from their unique experience. Trips away from family begin in the Middle School years. Starting in grade 6, students start the school year with a class trip to an area outside of Vienna. Utilizing buses or trains, kids head off with faculty chaperones to youth hostels or hotels and participate in a variety of fun, team-building activities to get to better know their classmates and teachers. Hiking, scavenger hunts, campfires, skits, songs, meal time and rooming with classmates are all part of the package. As students reach the high school years, they can try some more challenging endeavors, such as white water rafting and rock climbing.

Along with all of these planned activities, these trips that put students some distance away from the family  also develop other life skills, such as; planning, packing, decision making, time management, collaboration, conflict resolution, and more. Add in practice in the native tongue, and these kids are getting an education that can’t be found in the four walls of a classroom.

Also offered are the various educational, arts and sports related trips in which Third Culture Kids are able to participate. From track competitions where the Olympics originated in Athens, Greece, to Speech and Debate and Knowledge Bowl wins for both in Moscow, Russia, my girls have been fortunate to have a vast array of experiences in travel. I’ve watched them become not just comfortable, but adept, at airports, transportation, new cuisines, living with diverse host families and becoming the “cultural detectives” they need to be to thrive in new and varied cultural situations and contexts. With several airport family trips under my belt where the baton has been handed to my teenagers who now call the shots, pointing out areas for passport control and baggage retrieval, and breezing through various foreign locales like pros, I feel at ease letting them go and experience the world on their own.

So that’s how my daughter ended up in Spain, texting me of her happenings after a few days of independence with no technology connection. I had another much-needed reassurance that our out-of-the-ordinary lifestyle has had some benefits for the children we pretty much forced into it, when she took the time to thank us for the opportunity, adding “I am learning to speak Spanish very well, I think, and can finally say what I want to without taking,like, eight thousand years. It’s pretty great!” Throw in a night of her watching “amazing” flamenco dancing, a cooking evening with her host “mom”, and a couple trips to the beach, and we can count this sans-parents trip of her “going the distance” as a success.

Such skills and experiences last our Third Culture Kids a lifetime and are a huge bonus of this sometimes challenging lifestyle. And enjoying a 25th anniversary celebration sans-offspring isn’t a bad way to travel,  either!

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