Welcome home, and to the pages of my blog, to my oldest daughter who recently completed her first year of college. I thought it might be informative for her to provide some insights into her experience as a Third Culture Kid returning from a successful year of college to the world she left behind. And she was kind enough to welcome the collaboration. Many thanks to my guest blogger and welcome “home” to all the returning College TCKs!
Every student, college or otherwise, looks forward to summer. After the rush of assignments due before the end of the semester and the dread that accompanies finals, summer vacation comes as a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the school year. Summer is a time to relax, enjoy the warm weather, and, in the case of many college students, reconnect with old high school friends who have returned to their hometown after the academic year. For Third Culture Kids, this “homecoming” can be decidedly more complicated.
After finishing my first year of college, I looked forward to coming home to Vienna, but quickly realized that, while the city hasn’t changed, it no longer houses many of my closest friends from high school. The nomadic lifestyle of many families living outside of their passport countries doesn’t come to a halt when their kids go to college, and as a result, only a small fraction of my graduating class will even be returning to Vienna this summer. Many have new “hometowns” as a result of the rest of their family relocating.
With my friends from high school scattered across the globe from Virginia to Australia, Vienna doesn’t quite seem like the same place. I miss being able to walk down the street to my best friend’s house and spend the day watching movies and I doubt the new inhabitants would be as welcoming of my company as his family was. I miss walking to Schafbergbad with another friend and spending the day swimming and trying not to get a sunburn. I can’t ride the 35a bus without being reminded of the people who used to live at certain stops along the route, many of whom have left Vienna for good. Vienna as I knew it was inextricably bound with my relationships with these people, and being “home” without all of my classmates is more than a little disorienting.
That being said, this summer is an opportunity not only to spend time with a few of my close friends from high school, but to get to know some of my fellow AISV alums who I maybe wouldn’t have hung out with otherwise. It’s a chance to get closer to my family, find a job, meet new people, and rediscover my city.
Last year around this time, I ran a post that dealt with the RAFT model of moving on for Third Culture Kids (https://tcktalk.com/2013/05/). Lately, it’s been one of my most revisited posts as this time of year rolls around and international schools provide info for their families on the move (thanks to the international school websites who shared my link!).
As a reminder, the four areas to address with TCKs as they head off to a new destination are: Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewells and Thinking Destination. These are definitely helpful considerations for this population, and they have a lot to do with planning effectively for addressing important needs; past, present, and future. I think it’s also important, in this busy, stressful time, to find some ways in your last days in a destination to kick back and float on your RAFT.
Mindfulness, as defined and explained by Psychology Today, ” Is a state of active, open attention on the present.” When a person is being mindful, he or she lets go of judgment and opinion and observes thoughts and emotions as if from a distance, not assigning them a good or bad rating. Mindfulness is also related to not letting your life pass you by in ways that are expending too much energy on the past or in the future. It’s instead about trying to focus more on living in the moment and being open to what you are experiencing in the here and now.
Easy to say as I sit here from my computer staying in the same location in which I’ve lived for 12 years and watching people coming and going around me. The lingo this time of year always refers to next postings or new assignments, weight limits for shipments and containers, moving inventories, obtaining and forwarding various forms of records, etc. It’s hard to stop and smell the roses when you’re sneezing from the dust of sorting and cleaning. But I would try to add some “present” moments to that never-ending list of things to, the ever-playing images of past memories, and the nagging fears of the future unknown.
Mindfulness can be as informal and basic as focusing more time on your breath and as formal and structured as having official meditation sessions and techniques. For our global families, it can be stopping for a moment while sorting old toys of now grown kids to acknowledge the mixed emotions of sadness at the time that’s past and pride at the person your child has become. It can be taking a quick walk (exercise is proven to do incredibly positive things for low mood and stress) down a favorite and familiar road and being aware of all senses; the smell of the freshly blooming lilacs, the periwinkle hue of the midday sky, the feel of the breeze on your skin… Mindfulness has a lot to do with awareness and acceptance. And for people with a lot of change in their lives, much of which is out of their control, acceptance is a huge benefit.
So schedule a little bit of time, on whatever device you might happen to use, for viewing the everyday, ordinary things in a more focused and extraordinary manner. It’s a great way to leave a destination that has provided a multitude of incredible moments. Get comfortable on your RAFT, accept where the water is taking you, and tune in to “now” for at least a small part of each busy day ahead.
On the tail of the Oscars, I thought I’d make this month’s TCK Talk post a tribute to movies. Since we typically get many movies a bit after the fact when living overseas, I’m just now enjoying viewing some of the Oscar contenders and winners in various original English cinemas (Kinos) around Vienna. As a person who has lived most of my adult life away from my home culture, I adore original English movie houses and the many date nights, family nights, friendly outings, and now that my daughters are older and more out on their own, date nights revisited, that original English theaters provide.
I remember being in heaven when first learning there was a small theater that showed original English vs. the German dubbed movies, while I lived in Augsburg, Germany. Dubbing is great for improving German skills, and sometimes they did a remarkable job of getting voices that sounded incredibly like the Hollywood starts that I knew and loved. Other times, it was such a mismatch, that I would literally cringe each time a favorite actor spoke an octave higher or lower than I was used to. Nevertheless, it was such a genuine treat and feeling of “home away from home” to see a movie in its original form.
I remember seeing, Indecent Proposal, on a trip into Munich. Forrest Gump and Schindler’s List were memorable films that we viewed while in Amsterdam for the day. A plethora of Disney movies took over our viewing pleasure when the girls were young, including favorite, The Incredibles, a birthday party movie choice one year. More recently, the Harry Potter series were must-sees for the entire family, and now, both girls will head in for flicks with friends and often recommend films for my husband and me to later visit in accompaniment with a nearby Indian restaurant or a cafe.
So, in this way, any movie can be a hit for expats and Third Culture Kids, but there are also many movies with exotic and foreign themes that can serve many purposes for this unique culture. For young TCKs-to-be, it can be really helpful to give them insight and a view into their soon-to-be new homeland by sharing a movie with some familiar scenery. When my husband took the job that would be moving us from New Jersey to Vienna, we invested in a video tape (yes, it’s been a while) of The Sound of Music and watched it with our young daughters.
Maybe this was a bit of an unfair spin and my music-loving and performing daughters probably ended up with unrealistic views of running around their new country in drapery Dirndls, singing and dancing at every fountain. On the other hand, they did get excited about a new country full of gorgeous fountains, mountain opportunities, breath-taking views, and an incredible musical history. Where’s the harm in planting a visual seed of some exciting opportunities in a move that is bound to have some challenges, as well? We did also make the journey to Salzburg soon after our overseas move, and they had a lot of fun getting photos of sights they remembered from the film, and, on the Sound of Music bus tour, they did get to burst into song just like the Von Trapp tots.
Other movies for kids that can be helpful in opening windows to various views of the world are Madagascar (the third one even ends up in Europe), Cars 2, Ratatouille, Kung Fu Panda, Mulan, Finding Nemo and Up. Children’s movies and series that originate in other cultures, such as Swedish Pippi Longstockings, can also be incredibly educational for traveling kids and can offer a lot of insight into the views and social norms of a culture.
Young Adult and Adult TCKs have a multitude of movies to choose from that can either give them some insights or recognizable “a-ha” moments regarding that “fish out of water” feeling that all of us who live and travel in foreign lands can relate to. One very memorable one for me is, Lost in Translation. I first met my husband when he was headed for an assignment to Tokyo, Japan. When I later visited him there, I was amazed by such things as the hired “pushers” who basically “sardine” passengers into the subway before the doors close, the strong Sake samples (do not mix with jet-lag) in the grocery store, and the first-for-me feeling of being visibly different from the majority. When I saw this movie with a friend of mine on a trip to Berlin, I immediately called Bob (also the name of lead character played by Bill Murray) and told him he had to see his former life-story, complete with the over six foot tall head towering above others in an elevator, Karaoke outings, and clubs where bands such as the Japanese Beatles, covered western tunes and artists.
These movies can provide people who have lived life abroad with much needed comic relief and feelings of universality: If someone portrayed “my” feelings and experiences in a movie, and people can watch and relate to it, then I must not be totally different and alone. Other movies that show the experience of living out of your home country and element are Eat, Pray, Love, Under the Tuscan Sky, Mama Mia, The Beach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Darjeeling Limited, The Last King of Scotland, The Third Man, The Year of Living Dangerously, Casablanca, Outsource, The Painted Veil, and more. Please keep in mind that Hollywood portrayals can often be simplistic, and quite frankly, stereotypical, but for Third Culture Kids, it is still a plus that they can recognize this, and these concerns can tie in to later life desires to be global educators and advocates.
Third Culture Kids who are originally from America and relocating “home” can also often find some true connections with tales of first-timers in America. There are a variety of fictional accounts of this tale from comedy to drama, children to adult-oriented, classic to modern. A few that come to mind are, Charlie Chaplin’s, The Immigrant, Coming to America, An American Tail, Gangs of New York, The Kite Runner, The Joy Luck Club and more. Due to their frequent contact with airports, Terminal, about a man who is literally residing in an airport, also stands out as a movie this group might relate to.
Lastly, Third Culture Kids are adept at becoming world diplomats and welcoming, accepting and celebrating cultures. Utilizing these great life-time skills, many of the first-rate foreign films, complete with languages that might not be so foreign for these comfortable linguists, can also be incredible ways to catch a quick view of home, learn about a potential new one, or feel culturally alert and savvy. Favorite foreign films of mine include, Cinema Paradiso, My Life as a Dog, Amelie and Life is Beautiful.
So there you have it. My list of some of the flicks that are quite apropos for TCKs. Really, the possibilities are endless and can’t be done justice in a single post, which leads me to believe there might be room for TCK Flicks II. Nothing like a good sequel. Now go pop the popcorn and dim the lights, it’s showtime!
Feel free to send me your favorites for the sequel!
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.
For Third Culture Kids, the definition of home is a tricky one. For people who are often on the move, develop roots and then are uprooted, have family, friends and passports in and from a country in which they don’t reside, the word “home” is never easy.
So now, it’s holiday time, and we have the added warm, fuzzy, seasonal concept, complete with a sentimental Bing Crosby classic and a more upbeat Perry Como song, of being “home” for the holidays. So what, exactly, does that mean for Third Culture Kids?
Like many realities for Third Culture Kids, or at least the ones I know on an up close and personal level, “home”, in relation to holidays, is also transient. My oldest daughter was born in December, in The Netherlands. Her very first holiday “home” was Holland. We sent a faxed picture of our newborn, wrapped in swaddling H & M clothing, to her grandparents back in the U.S. They proudly displayed the grainy black and white photo on their Christmas tree, as my extended family gathered for the Christmas Eve tradition at the home of my youth.
We, however, spent three more years in Holland, often with birthday visits from grandparents, getting to know a guy named Sinterklaas. He came to our little village by ship on a canal, and was accompanied by mischievous elves called Zwarte Piet, who handed out delicious, little, ginger bread cookies known as pepernoten. My youngest daughter was born in springtime in Holland, but didn’t spend a Christmas there. Still, she knows a lot about the Dutch holiday of Sinterklaas, and also learned songs and colored pictures that included Sinterklaas, Zwarte Piet and boots filled with treats.
Soon after my second daughter was born, we moved to New Jersey with our family of four, and this became our new “home” for the holidays. Our first year back in the states, we bought a live Christmas tree to plant in the yard of our newly built home. We watched it grow, like the strong friendships around us, for the three years we lived there. Like many American families, after Santa came and stockings were emptied, we packed our gear into the mini-van and headed to relatives and traditions across the country in Ohio. Snow and ice were often a part of the journey, as were sharing Christmas songs and cookies.
Then came the offer to head back to Europe, and we spent the next few years enjoying the charms of an Austrian Christmas. The Advent season is huge in Austria, with sweet-filled advent calendars a necessary purchase in grocery stores, and the beautiful town hall (Rathaus), a larger-than-life advent calendar with number-filled windows. Christmas Markets can be found throughout the city. Our family’s favorite is still the one in front of Schoenbrunn Palace, in the neighborhood of our first Austrian home.
As time went on and ski lessons accumulated, we started a new tradition of Christmas in Obertauern, a beautiful ski village. Our lodgings had a huge Christmas tree, warm fire places, and delicious, hearty meals that were likely to add some extra winter insulation. The Weihnachtsman (Christmas Man) made his way to the mountains, visiting the Christmas Eve festivities with a gift for each child. We spent wonderful seasonal holidays with dear friends and their children, and for a few years, this was our “home” for the holidays.
Then, the girls got a bit older and wanted to reconnect with extended family, and, hit the holiday sales. “Home” once again became Ohio, as we would fly in for the gatherings, a white elephant pre-Christmas party with aunts, uncles and cousins, and then Christmas with my parents, and brother’s family that involved a gift exchange, favorite hymns at church, and a visit from Santa in the morning. We were fortunate to spend time with my husband’s sister’s family who lived in the area and often made a trip north to visit my husband’s parents and brothers. On these whirlwind holiday trips to America, my girls and I got proficient at speed wrapping, and Amazon became my best friend as I shipped things to my parents’ house, awaiting our arrival. Dinners or outings with friends were added treats and marathon mall visits, in order to pick up the best after-Christmas bargains, were many.
Now, our “home” for the holidays, has shifted again. With my eldest being back in the U.S. for college, she had a strong desire to head to her Vienna “home” this year. She’s already making plans to reconnect, as many of the people in her life head back to this area. And the rest of us are pretty happy to be keeping a more relaxed pace this year. We’ll be hanging out with those overseas friends that become more like family, without the packing, gathering presents and passports, and praying for safe travels that don’t involve delays, jet-lag, air sickness, and germs…all unwelcome ghosts of Christmases past.
So happy holidays to all, and especially you Third Culture Kids, wherever this year’s “home” for the holidays may be. There is no place like “home” for the holidays. Even if – no, especially if- your “home” is a wonderful multitude of places, people, languages, foods, experiences, and warm, fond memories.
In honor of one my daughters’ and my favorite books/movies in recent years, Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, I’ve penned (keyed?) a title similar to his for this installment of TCK Talk. The title, the book, the movie, especially Patrick, portrayed by the enigmatic, charasmatic Ezra Miller, and the sharing of the experience with people I care about, puts me in a great place, a comfort zone, a feeling of all being good in the world. And so does looking at many of the positives that come with the Third Culture Kid lifestyle. Because there are many. And, as sometimes can be the case in a world that can stress the negative and trivialize the beauty in the little things, we may not focus on these enough. So just a few of the pluses to sustain us and help us to remember some of the experiences we are so fortunate to have; to pay homage to the book once again, the windy, alive, soaring through a tunnel to the tune of a haunting song, “infinite”, moments that are a fortunate perk that go along with being a world traveler.
1. The Actual World Travel – My daughters have enjoyed tip-toeing through tulips in their birth country of Holland, track meets in the home of the Olympics, Greece, sleeping and shivering on a bed block of ice in a Swedish Ice Hotel, swooshing down the Alps on school ski trips, Speech and Debate and Knowledge Bowl victories in Moscow, and so many other incredible experiences it would take a novel to write them all. And another thing people may misinterpret when Third Culture Kids are sharing their experiences, this is not bragging; this is counting blessings.
2. Living Different Cultures – Between the experience of living in a different culture, and going to school at an international school with over 50 cultures represented, we have had the privilege and pleasure of living a variety of different cultures. In Holland, for example, my daughters were brought into the world in an out-patient program that had us in the hospital for a matter of hours, before returning to the comfort of our own home. This included the incredible support of a government provided nurse who helped with hands-on advice and service for a week, making us “experts” (at least in the basics like bathing and diaper changing) before leaving us to parent on our own.
This month marks the opening of the Viennese Christkindlesmarkten, or markets in honor of the Christmas season. It’s time for a traditional hot, spiced, Gluehwein and browsing the stalls for traditional gifts like tin ornaments or carved wooden figures.
One of my all-time favorite memories of this lifestyle is captured on a birthday party video, as my youngest daughter blew out the candles, and a mini U.N. gathered around the table, broke into birthday song greetings in German, Dutch, French, Italian, Chinese (I may be missing a language here), each taking a turn to wish birthday greetings in their unique way. This up close and personal sharing of other cultures is a daily, and often taken-for-granted privilege, the benifits of which can’t be measured. And that birthday song image is a nice segue to number three…
3. Language Learning- In a world that gets smaller all the time with technology connecting countries and continents that used to know nothing about each other, it can certainly be a perk to have an extra language, or more, in your skill set. Yes, we are fortunate that English is an often-used and widely spoken language around the globe, but being conversant or fluent in other languages is certainly a sought-after skill in today’s global world. Not to mention all the funny stories regarding miscommunication that abound, and the perk Third Culture Kids get of correcting and making fun of their less-fluent parents’ vocab and pronunciation.
At the risk of going from blog to book, I’m going to stop here, with the plan of coming back to this topic in future musings. There are loads of perks to being world travelers, and when some of the challenges and struggles come up, it can be helpful to keep some of these in mind. A trip through family scrapbooks, postcards, or souvenirs can be a great place to go when we are faced with challenges, feeling blue, or otherwise needing a reminder of how great this life can be. In this way, Third Culture Kids can also become adept at another type of travel, taking a sometimes needed walk, through tulip fields or Christmas Markets, down memory lane.
Please feel free to comment or send any personal perks you might have! Thanks!
I’ve found, in my work with students, that one thing that can sometimes give them inspiration and hope, is to find a well-known success story of a person who may have experienced some of the same challenges they are experiencing, and who was able to survive and thrive. This knowledge that people can take adversity and turn it into strength, has proved helpful in cases of bullying, divorce, learning challenges and body image. Knowing full well that many of our kids are greatly influenced by celebrities and people in the media, I thought it would be helpful for this unique population to also have some role model Third Culture Kids who have made it big. So here are a few names you might want to drop with your TCKs.
1. U.S. President Barack Obama: The 44th President of the United States is half Kenyan. He also spend part of his youth living in Jakarta with his mother and her second husband, who was Indonesian, before returning to Hawaii to live with his grandparents. Obama has traveled extensively and has ancestry from Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and more. This “big picture” look at the world wins him some fans, and some enemies.
2. Yoko Ono: The performance artist and wife of Beatle John Lennon was born to a Japanese banking family and lived in the U.S. , due to her father’s work, for much of her youth. After going to high school in Japan, she went to Sarah Lawrence College in New York City, and met John Lennon while in London. Like many TCKs, she was comfortable with travel and found artistic ways to explore her identity.
3. Viggo Mortensen: For all the Lord of the Rings fans out there, the actor who plays Aragon was born to a Danish father and American mother, but spent much of his youth living in Argentina. This environment is where his love for football, or soccer, as Americans know it, grew strong. After his parents divorced, he moved to Copenhagen with his father, but went to a university in New York for his Master’s degree in Spanish. His love and knack for languages, like many TCKs, is a life-long strength.
4. Isabel Allende: This famous writer, who is considered the most widely read Spanish author, writes in a style that combines myth and realism. She was born in Peru, where her father was a diplomat, then spent time in her native country of Chile before moving to Bolivia and Beirut with her mother’s second husband, also a diplomat. She attended private American and English schools. Later, she worked for the United Nations and as a translator. She also lived and worked in Venezuela and Spain and finally settled in California, USA. Like many TCKs, this much-traveled TCK also showed a propensity for setting up residencies in many locations throughout her life, and writes about many of her personal experiences within the pages of her novels.
5. Khaled Hosseini: Also a famous writer, Hosseini penned the best seller, The Kite Runner, telling the story of the former beauty of his war-torn birth nation, Afghanistan. Hosseini’s father was a diplomat in the Afghan Foreign Ministry, and, at 11, Hosseini moved to Paris for four years. Due to return to Afghanistan, war prohibited the family’s return, and they were granted asyllum and moved to San Jose, California. Like many adult TCKs, Hosseini’s experience with many cultures of the world led him to service. He served as a Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency on a trip to Afghanistan, and, soon after this visit, started a foundation to help Afghani women, children and refugees.
6. Christiane Amanpour: This leading news correspondent for CNN with a self-titled evening program was born in London to an English mother and Iranian father. She was largely raised in Tehran, but returned to England for boarding school from age 11 on. She chose Rhode Island in the U.S. for university, and found her way to radio stations and then CNN. She became known as a war correspondent during various conflicts including the Bosnian War. Like many Third Culture Kids, Amanpour became more comfortable with risk, parachuting into conflict areas and professionally reporting from various dangerous locations.
The above list gives some examples of Third Culture Kids who have made quite a name for themselves, and also some of the strengths that this lifestyle can offer. Other Adult Third Culture Kids, with whom young people might be familiar, are actress Reese WItherspoon, Secretary of State John Kerry, Actor/Director Scott Foley and Musician/Actress Milla Jovovich. It would be great to hear from others who can supply examples of successful individuals with the Third Culture Kid experience who we can share with young people experiencing this lifestyle.
I realize it’s only September, and the majority of people out there might think October is the fitting time for a post about ghosts. But for the TCK crowd, this time of year is often when the ghosts do their haunting.
You see, it’s the beginning of the school year. Most TCKs have returned from their summer excursions to connect with family and far-away friends and are back on their “home” turf. They are returning to the familiar hallways and classrooms that make up their schools and to the paths, and sometimes cobble-stoned roads, that make up their cities. But a fairly significant number of their friends, familiar faces and, let’s face it, comfort zones, are no longer there.
My husband really summed up for me one year, the feeling that people staying on, in a very transient community, can repeatedly experience. “It’s like there are ghosts all around us,” he said.
And that pretty much sums it up for a group of the Third Culture Kid experience who are less talked about in the literature and tips for moving on and forward. These “Left Behinds”, for want of a better term, suffer their own kind of loss. And they don’t have new experiences,new venues and new people to create some excitement along with the loss. They have the same familiar setting, with the very strong reality that memories of those who have moved on accompany them, like lost spirits, throughout the day.
From the cafeteria where they laughed so hard they spit sandwiches, to the lockers where they hung special birthday greeting and photos, to the gym where they hugged after a victorious game-winning shot, to those left behind, the familiar walls can be less a comfort than a constant mirror reflecting their loss.
We’re one of the few non-Austrian families that have spent a long stretch of time as members of our international school community. I’ve mentioned before, that I first recognized the ongoing theme of loss in an Austrian friend of ours who would ask at the beginning of the school year if it was our turn to move. “Is this your last year?” he would ask with some trepidation.
More recently, this has been the trend with my daughters. The last couple years saw the loss of some especially close friends, and this year, the absence of my now college-age daughter. Returning to school for my daughter left behind, means seeing that empty space around the lunch table, or walking to school alone. Such new realities, in very familiar settings, can be incredibly difficult.
One great strength of Third Culture Kids is that they learn resilience. In a society where current mental health issues of young adults can sometimes be tied to the lack of this skill and the trend toward protection, the ability to bounce back from difficulty is a plus. Third Culture Kids can often get more experience in building resilience. On the other hand, loss that is not acknowledged, and is hidden or avoided year after year, can cause emotional fall-out such as depression and anxiety.
At this time of year, I think those who live with, work closely with, and support, the unique culture known as Third Culture Kids, need to take a little extra time to think about and address our “Left Behinds”. Keep in mind that the familiar can also be a type of pain for them. Allow TCKs the time and opportunity to talk about and acknowledge their loss before trying to move them ahead toward meeting new friends and enjoying activities.
It might be helpful to encourage “Left Behinds” to voice their pain and loss through a means that is personal to them. Those who enjoy art might want to create a collage or drawing that reflects their feelings of loss. Writers could be encouraged to turn to their journals, write poetry, or write a letter to someone who has left. Although email is now the norm, I’ve watched my youngest daughter’s face light up when a colorful snail mail envelope lands in our mailbox. Music is a great way to work through feelings of loss. Encourage your TCKs to stick in those ear buds you may dread, listen to favorite songs shared with a person who has left, or burn twin CDs of favorite songs for missing friends and themselves. Many young people like to turn to nature or to work through their challenges through exercise or sports. Focusing in some such manner on the loss can help TKCs to feel that they have some control over it. Creating something for the missing person can also serve as a reminder that the special relationship will be remembered by those they fear may quickly forget or replace them.
Losing friends year after year is a type of grief, and as such, we need to allow TCKs who are left behind time to be sad, and to say their goodbyes. By acknowledging these losses as real, listening when our TCKs need to talk, and simply giving them a hug when words don’t help, those who are left behind will be able to move forward connected to people, instead of haunted by ghosts.
I have to come clean and admit that I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I am at the same time amazed and grateful that so much information and more can be at my fingertips whenever needed, and annoyed that so much family time is spent behind a screen. Technology is supposed to make things quicker, easier, more efficient, but can often morph into such a time suck. That being said, I have to admit, in relationship to the TCK lifestyle, I have a pretty big technology crush.
I’ve lived abroad for somewhere in the range of 18 years of my adult life. In that time, moving from country to country, it became pretty easy to lose track of people. Enter Facebook into my life about five years ago. Not only am I in touch with people from various stages and continents of my life, but I can send out a note about a meeting place while anywhere near these special people, and get to see familiar faces on a quick and easy regular basis. In between, I can virtually meet spouses and children, have a screen seat at graduations and award ceremonies, and more. It really does help me to feel more in touch with the people and places I’ve left behind.
Conversely, people are continually leaving me behind. As a longer term resident of our transient community, it is helpful to be able to see photos of people settling into their new lives and surroundings, and to make quick plans to join them there. No current goodbye is complete without Facebook “friendings” and promises to hit that profile page. My youngest lost a best friend since kindergarten to a move last year and has been able to reconnect with her this year at various homes, sporting events and vacation spots nearly half a dozen times. Much of the quick and easy planning for this is thanks to e-mail, Facebook posts and more. Not to mention their Skype dates and Snapchat photo exchanges.
All of those pros being addressed, I have to say my ultimate love affair with technology has developed quite recently. Not only could my oldest daughter handle the majority of her college search struggles and successes online (the Naviance program offered at our and many schools is a great clearing house and informational source for college bound students), she could also handle her nascent college social life at the ends of her fingertips. Gone are the days of showing up at your dorm and being thrown together, for better or worse, with strangers. Through a Facebook page started immediately after acceptance for the class of 2017, my daughter has already met and computer conversed with a wide range of people and potential college friends, and, get this, chosen a roommate who already feels more like a friend than a stranger. They’ve discussed literature and lifestyles and watched (and liked the photos of) each others’ recent big events such as prom and graduation. For this college parent who will be a continent away, it’s pretty calming to know my daughter already has a lot in common, and a history, of sorts, with the person who will be sharing her very up close and personal space next year.
Not to mention the Skype time that I am looking forward to, with a leaving daughter who will always be in my heart, although much farther away next year. I went to pick up a good friend for dinner this year and smiled when I received a text that she was” Skyping” with her away-at-college son and would be out in a couple minutes. “No rush”, I texted (yes, I can text, although at turtle speed compared to my daughters) back. I knew my time would be coming to be in the same shoes, and on the same screen, and wanted her to savor that form of technology togetherness.
So, for now, this TCK mom is going to give technology some credit and admit that my heartstrings are currently tugged by technology. That is, of course, until my computer randomly powers off for some updates and I lose what I was working on. Or until I am once again aggravated that I can no longer see my youngest daughter’s beautiful face while hidden behind that enemy screen.
Enemy is too strong of a word. Even the best of relationships have challenges and difficulties and are not perfect (note to my husband of 23 years to keep this in mind as I adjust to the family changes next year!) The computer screen will be, after all, that same means to see my oldest daughter’s beautiful face next year, and hear her voice and share in her life, a continent away.
Technology…How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…