#TCKchat: What is it and How to Get Involved

pic161-detailThis article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Among Worlds. Minor corrections have been made to reflect the most updated information (dates/times, twitter accounts) and hyperlinks have been added.


In this issue of Among Worlds, we begin a regular column called #TCKchat. Freelance writer and #TCKchat co-host Dounia Bertuccelli provides an introduction to #TCKchat, where to find more information and how to get involved.

When it comes to Third Culture Kids (TCKs), it is complex to find a one-size-fits-all answer. Despite sharing certain similarities, each TCK experience is unique and deserves to be heard. In this day and age of technology and social media, it is easier than ever to share thoughts and ideas with a global audience. Connecting with people across the world in an instant is something many of us do on a daily basis. For TCKs, this can mean keeping touch with family and friends, but also with other TCKs, with whom they feel understood and accepted. Adult TCKs Amanda Bate and Ellen Mahoney understood the importance of those connections and created a space where they could be nurtured and developed: #TCKchat.

What is #TCKchat and Why Was it Developed?

The Third Culture Kid Chat (#TCKchat) is a twitter chat focused on topics related to the experiences of Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and adult TCKs (ATCKs). It is a public discussion forum, providing insight and information to help support current and future generations of TCKs.

As adult TCKs who started their own businesses catered towards supporting TCKs during crucial transition periods, Amanda and Ellen have both the personal and professional experience to lead such a project. They both work with young adult and college age TCKs through their organizations Bate Consulting and Sea Change Mentoring.

“We both started businesses with TCKs in mind, because it was a reflection of support we wished we had when we were younger,” says Amanda. It was this same mindset that led to the creation of #TCKchat. For Ellen and Amanda, #TCKchat was a natural next step to create a wider network and community of support for TCKs of all ages. Amanda explains:

“We use Twitter to discuss anything and everything related to the TCK experience. Our goal is to build a community where we share information, encourage and challenge one another.”

Participants are of different generations and backgrounds (personal and professional) and are located across every continent except South America. The nine co-hosts are also from around the world and are currently living in Turkey, U.S.A (various states), Australia and Zimbabwe.

#TCKchat also aims to provide information, tips and insight to adults who work with or are raising TCKs. It can be a difficult experience to understand if you haven’t lived it, but “our discussions can be a tool for those who work with them [TCKs],” Amanda hopes.

How to Get Involved

Anyone can participate in #TCKchat, as long as they have a Twitter account. There are no restrictions of any kind, and no obligation to answer the questions presented. There is, however, an unspoken understanding that all involved will be respectful.

A Few Tips to Help You Get Started:

  • #TCKchat occurs on the first and third Wednesday/Thursday of each month with 2 sessions: 1st session at GMT 15:00 and 2nd session at GMT +1 3:00.
  • To make participation easier, use applications like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. You can find a video on how to install/use these on the #TCKchat website, and the co-hosts are always happy to provide further assistance.
  • Use #TCKchat in each tweet so everyone in the chat can see/read your tweets.
  • All questions will be available on the website the Sunday before the chat, but they will also be tweeted out at intervals during the chat.

Past Topics and Chat Highlights

If you do not have a twitter account but would still like to read what was shared, the #TCKchat team has you covered: highlights of each chat are posted the following day and those are available to everyone.

Check Out the Highlights of These Past Discussions:

There are a lot of insightful, touching and humorous comments made in every chat, but unfortunately it would be difficult to share highlights from all of them in one article. For this first column, I have included some tweets from topics that align with this issue’s theme of Dating and Relationships. 

How being a TCK influenced their dating relationships:

  • @TweetingAuthor I’m driven by cultural difference, so naturally, I date those that show signs of being culturally unique in their community. #TCKchat
  • @TCKPonders It’s made me very aware of timing, and when there’s a big move on the horizon I’m very reluctant to get involved. #TCKchat
  • @evnicolas No dating in my teens, too many moves. I was tired, self-conscious, displaced. Focused mainly on schooling. Disassociated. #TCKchat
  • @evnicolas Began to date in London where I could settle, find roots and attach to location. #TCKchat
  • @tayorockson It was difficult for me to meet the family members of girlfriends too soon because I just wasn’t sure how long I would stay in the city. #TCKchat
  • @bateconsult I wrongly presumed that there has to be miscommunication w/ a non TCK. Communication isn’t guaranteed with a TCK either. #TCKchat
  • @TweetingAuthor There’s a reason so many TCKs become writers. We always anticipate miscommunication, so we learn to do it the best. #TCKchat

Benefits/challenges of cross-cultural relationships or dating non-TCKs:

  • @seachangementor Benefit with a non [TCK]: My spouse has been like an ambassador 2 the US 4 me. Learned a lot about this country I’m supposedly from. 🙂 #TCKchat
  • @NeehaMujeeb Learning what it is like to have grown up in one place your whole life. A whole new perspective! #TCKchat
  • @seachangementor Dating someone of a different culture helps me empathize and understand the people of that culture. #TCKchat
  • @danautanu Challenge: Them not getting why I’m not grounded and why it’s hard. #TCKchat
  • @mariacelina Family life. This is where I’m reminded of the fact that even though the man I date is a TCK, his relatives may or may not be. #TCKchat
  • @TCKmeghali Definitely racism. People also sometimes took for granted where my home or roots were, or my family background/traditions. #TCKchat
  • @juanjohn Dating language was in Spanish, not English, so the words I used were different. #TCKchat

Settling down, change and mobility in relationships:

  • @TweetingAuthor The concept of settling down is terrifying. From marriage to children, the idea that moving could stop scares me to death. #TCKchat
  • @bateconsult I’ve bought a house. I still took me FOUR years to admit that I now have a “home”. #TCKchat
  • @TayoRockson I find myself thinking that when I do [settle down] I might not be able to fully express myself or be as mobile as I want to be. #TCKchat
  • @dp_saxon I hope to “settle down” with someone who’s open to thoughtful and regular change. #TCKchat
  • @danautanu The older I get the more I’m tired of starting over. And want the warmth of stability. #TCKchat
  • @unsettledtck Our biggest problem is trust: him that I won’t bail and me that he will respect my travel and autonomy. #TCKchat
  • @DipKidAmber I think I have an unreasonable expectation for people to handle change as easily as I do. Working on that… #TCKchat

Advice on managing a cross-cultural relationship:

  • @bateconsult Shut up and listen. Be observant. Have patience. #TCKchat
  • @livingquestions Remember to cut yourself some slack. Staying open & learning about each other is hard work! Allowed to be tired sometimes! #TCKchat
  • @Sekhmet_12th Best advice I can give is to take the time to LISTEN, it is literally about being able to understand each other, to compromise. #TCKchat
  • @DouniaB_TCK Willingness to listen & learn. Open, honest, constant communication. Patience & understanding with differences. #TCKchat
  • @juanjohn Be patient and open-minded. #TCKchat
  • @danautanu Realize that communicating across difference includes TCKs trying to understand non-TCKs. #TCKchat
  • @livingquestions Laughter is huge! Be willing to laugh about miscommunications/mistakes. #TCKchat
  • @mariacelina Be patient and understanding with yourself and your partner. Always communicate. Avoid generalizations. Love. Love a lot. #TCKchat

#TCKchat is steadily growing and we’re always happy to welcome new participants. The hope is that it will continue to reach TCKs across the globe and provide a welcoming environment for thoughts on this transient lifestyle and its impacts. #TCKchat is a community where you are understood, accepted and embraced.

When I asked Amanda for her latest thoughts on #TCKchat, she concluded with this:

“At this point in the game, I’m probably most proud of seeing how friendships and networks have formed as a result of #TCKchat getting people talking to each other. It’s exciting to see the affirming that happens. That your experiences, good or bad (or both!) are valid. That you get a seat at the table. That you aren’t weird. And even if you are, we accept you, regardless.”

Upcoming Dates and Topics

Additional Information

#TCKchat is held on the first and third Wednesday/Thursday of each month with 2 sessions: 1st session at GMT 15:00 and 2nd session at GMT +1 3:00. To figure out when #TCKchat happens in your time zone, visit www.TimeandDate.com On the website, you will find upcoming chat dates and topics, highlights from past topics, a video showing you how to get involved/participate in #TCKchat and information on all of the co-hosts.

Website: www.bateconsult.com/category/tck-chat/

Co-hosts: First Session

Co-hosts: Second Session

A Global Education – Part 2

Read Part 1 here – Introduction and Attending a Local School Down Under…

International/American Schools Around the World

By contrast to the relatively homogenous community of the Australian school, the international/American schools had more diversity in nationality. They were used to a regular ebb and flow of students from around the world. But even they each had their own unique community and ambiance.

In Mexico, there was a strong influence and presence of the Mexican culture and of Spanish. In elementary/lower school, when we were in more advanced Spanish levels, we did half of our day in English and the other half in Spanish. I remember doing math, history, reading and other subjects in both languages. We learned global history but we also studied Mexican history – contemporary and ancient. We sang the Mexican national anthem and celebrated Mexican festivities and traditions. Even the school was mostly Americans and Mexicans. There were other nationalities, but far less than in other international/American schools I attended.

In the Philippines there were a lot of Americans and Filipinos, as well as quite a few other nationalities, from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America. However, in sharp contrast to the immersion in Mexico, there was little teaching of the local culture in the Philippines. Although the members of faculty were culturally diverse (including locals), there was no particular emphasis on teaching/transmitting the local culture to the students.

In France, the high school community was highly multicultural, with students and faculty from around the world. It was not unusual to hear 3-4 languages being spoken in the hallways, often in the same conversation. Like in Mexico and the Philippines, there was a great deal of respect for other cultures and traditions, but again the cultural immersion was handled differently. Although there were obligatory French classes, most of the immersion efforts came from individual teachers, who strived to teach their students about local culture, traditions and history.

It’s More Than Just Academics

My age in each location, as well as my cultural background, obviously colored each experience differently. I was aware of culture, race and ethnicity early on because of my name and background, so it was never something I could ignore. As I grew older, I paid closer attention to how culture (local and international) was dealt with and how that impacted interactions – both inside and outside school walls.

Over time I learned it really came down to individuals and how they chose to immerse themselves or not in their host country. There were many who chose to step outside of their expat bubble and really learn the language and explore the city/country as locals. But there were also others who remained closed off, never learning the language, only attending expat events or typically expat restaurants, ordering everything through embassy stores etc.

Thankfully my parents always wanted us to learn languages, to understand different cultures and to think outside the expat bubble. They didn’t want us to be spoilt, arrogant or out of touch with the world we were living in. A lot of the cultural education and immersion in our host countries was thanks to them. They made sure we visited different parts of the countries we lived in, tasted local foods, learned about local traditions and saw beyond the typical expat experience.

I will be forever grateful that my parents opened our minds to all the different cultures we lived in. They taught us to look beyond (but not disregard) color, race, privilege, language and any other ‘barriers’. Their way of teaching us about the world made us into curious, well-rounded and accepting individuals. I realize now that is the greatest education I could have ever received.

A Global Education – Part 1

A TCKchat from a couple of months ago made me realize what a unique and privileged education I’ve had. Not only have I gone to schools around the world (and that is an education in itself), but I have also gone to different types of schools. I’ve attended international/American schools in Mexico, the Philippines and France; local schools in the U.S. and Australia, and went on to study in French and British universities.

What’s interesting is that each school and experience was unique. Even among the international/American schools, each one was different – in size, community, diversity, interaction with the locals and local culture etc. For the local schools, both of my experiences were vastly different, due to age, location and where I had lived before I attended them.

This isn’t just about the schools, however, it’s also about what I learned through them and the countries they were located in. It’s not simply about the academics, but also what I learned about the world, about cultures, and about interactions with different people.

Attending a Local School Down Under

The local school in the U.S. was the first school I ever went to (after kindergarten), so I hadn’t experienced my TCKness or a TCK environment yet. I was technically already a TCK, since I was living outside my parent’s culture and I was born in Cyprus, but for me I was just another kid going to school. I have a few memories from that school but I left when I was eight years old.

By the time I attended my second local school, in Australia, I was 13 years old, living in my 5th country, and had several years of TCK experience under my belt. Suddenly I was thrust into a totally unfamiliar school system, with nearly no other foreigners, expats or TCKs. To make matters worse, we arrived for the last 2-3 weeks of the school year, which made things especially awkward. Starting at the end of the year makes you stand out and feel even more alone. When you arrive at the beginning of the year, everyone is still adjusting to classes. They may all know each other, but it’s still a brand new year. You have more of a chance of finding your feet, or trying to blend in. To add to the already tumultuous situation, it was the first time we had to wear a school uniform. Needless to say, it was not a smooth transition and the first few weeks were not fun.

Despite the initial upheaval, however, I ended up loving it there. I made wonderful friends, I was involved in sports, did well at school, and I was happy. I tried new things, like rowing (which I loved), and went on camping trips with the school, seeing breathtaking parts of Australia. I made incredible memories and long-lasting friendships. One of my closest friends to this day is someone I met in Sydney, and I haven’t seen her since I left – almost 15 years ago. We only spent two years there, but I was devastated when we left. That was definitely something I didn’t expect, considering I had not been surrounded by other TCKs like me. But I think that when you’re young, you’re less judgmental. We were kids, we got along, we had sunshine, beach and teenage dreams. What else could someone ask for at that age?

I’m happy I had that time in Australia and a chance to see a different system, even if it wasn’t always easy. It ensured I didn’t just have one experience and grow up entirely in a TCK/expat bubble. It gave me an even wider scope with which to view the world. From a cultural and academic standpoint, it taught me a lot.

Part 2 coming soon: my experiences with International/American schools and culture; and how education is about more than just academics…

Book Review – Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging

Between WorldsBetween Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging by Marilyn R. Gardner

When I found out that Marilyn was going to publish a book, I knew it would be great and I was impatient to read it. I first read Marilyn’s writing on her blog, Communicating Across Boundaries, and I was immediately captured by her words. Her writing is always so honest, vulnerable, insightful and eloquent. Her book is no different.

Although I received Marilyn’s book a while ago (courtesy of the author herself – thank you!), I’ve taken a while to get through it and write this review. It wasn’t because the book is heavy reading or takes a while to get through, but rather because I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to savor what I was reading and have the time to reflect upon it.

Reading Between Worlds is like having a conversation with a TCK best friend. You may have lived in different countries and experienced different things but ultimately you understand each other to the deepest core. You can skip the small talk and trying to explain your background and just get right into the nitty-gritty things. The things that matter, that affected you, that shaped you. The way growing up between worlds is both blessing and curse, beautiful and heart-breaking…But that no matter how tough it can be you would do it all again.

Marilyn covers all that and so much more in this first (and hopefully not last!) book. She has divided her essays into seven topics that most, if not all, TCKs have dealt with: home, identity, belonging, airports, grief and loss, culture clash, and goodbyes. Through these topics we get a glimpse into Marilyn’s world growing up as a TCK and then struggling to adjust as an ATCK, especially upon returning to her passport country. But this isn’t a chronological book outlining each aspect of her life growing up, and I love that. It’s a collection of touching, heart-warming, humorous, gut wrenching essays about defining moments, memories or events. Her descriptions are so vivid and the details so precise that we can almost see, smell and hear everything. We can picture the Chai Shop, smell the curry, hear the raindrops on the tin roof and the call to prayer. We can also feel her sorrow, her intense joy and all the myriad of emotions that come with living between worlds.

On a very personal level, I connected deeply with many things Marilyn wrote. We are so very different in our TCK experiences – I have never lived in Pakistan, but lived in 7 different countries around the world; I grew up as a ‘corporate’ TCK, not an MK; we are of different generations…But none of that matters. I had already noticed how little it mattered when reading her blog posts as I often felt that she was writing my own thoughts and feelings. Reading Between Worlds was the same. She could have been expressing my own joys, fears and struggles. I felt understood and comforted. And I know I will be re-reading her book time and time again.

For those of you who haven’t read Between Worlds yet, please do. You won’t regret it. Everyone can find something to relate to, whether TCK or not. To tempt you and give you a taste of Marilyn’s beautiful writing, here are some of my favorite quotes. I could have included many, many more, but I hope that this selection will push you to read her wonderful book.


“Every good story has a conflict. Never being fully part of any world is ours. This is what makes our stories and memories rich and worth hearing. We live between worlds, sometimes comfortable in one, sometimes in the other, but only truly comfortable in the space between. This is our conflict and the heart of our story.” (p. 29) 

“My passport was my grown-up teddy bear. Its expiration was an identity theft of sorts, arousing a host of feelings for which I was unprepared. I was swept away in a tsunami of soul tears, tears that come from such a deep place that you do not think you can survive them. And in those soul tears, I made up my mind that no matter what, I would not let my passport expire again. […] It was a crucial part of the complexity of my journey of identity.” (p. 58)

“Third culture kid envy is one of the consequences of being designed for travel. It is what I feel when my feet are trapped on the ground for too long while I watch others travel.” (p. 73)

“Being able to travel is one of life’s greatest gifts. It simultaneously keeps one humble and fully alive. And for me the gift and magic begin at the airport. The airport is a place where I don’t have to try. It’s where I can be fully comfortable between worlds.” (p. 91)

“At airports, life seems full of endless possibilities. Whether I’m traveling to Rochester, New York or Karachi, I enter the terminal and get airport eyes, seeing the world through the lens of hope and opportunity.” (p. 105)

“As we tell our stories we realize that these transitions and moves are all part of a bigger narrative, a narrative that is strong and solid and gives meaning to our lives. As we learn to tell our stories we understand not only the complexity of our experience, but the complexity of the human experience, the human heart. So we learn to tell our stories – because your story, my story, and our stories matter.” (p. 162)

“Third culture kids, immigrants, refugees, foreigners. We find each other in unlikely spaces. In the shared experience of other, we find belonging and rest, whether in a short ride to an airport or a long-distance phone conversation. These moments of connection seem to come at the right time, sustaining us until the next encounter, preventing us from falling into an abyss of self-pity and isolation.” (p. 181)

“No matter where these goodbyes have taken place, whether it’s been on hot tarmacs, or dusty river banks; efficient European airports or train stations, the symptoms are the same. My stomach gets those characteristic ‘goodbye’ butterflies, my throat constricts, my body feels restless. Time passes too quickly; minutes count, hours horrify.” (p. 195 & 230)

“All the world feels caught in these goodbyes, goodbyes that bruise and hurt, yet remind us that our hearts are still soft and alive.” (p. 202)


And last, but certainly not least, a quote from Marilyn’s preface:

“This book is a product of that life, a life lived on both sides of the globe. It is a set of essays from a life lived between worlds. […] It is my hope that my words, stories, thoughts, and feelings resonate with those who, along with me, are living between worlds.”

Six Letters of Identity

I never would have thought that six letters could be the cause of such confusion and complications.

Six letters.

D-O-U-N-I-A

Six letters that make no sense in most of the world and whose pronunciation apparently has endless possibilities. Six letters that formed my identity in more ways than one since my parents bestowed them upon me.


Growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK), identity becomes a complex issue. It’s tough to define your identity when you’ve grown up in different countries and have assimilated many cultures. I usually present myself as Lebanese-American, but that statement is only partly true. I am 100% Lebanese by blood and heritage (but have never lived there), American by passport and I grew up all over the world, in six countries spread over four continents.

The only constants in my life and identity were my family and my name. A name that I loved but at times grew weary of, having to spell it and explain it all the time. Enduring mispronunciations, mockery and confusion, no matter where we were in the world. Sometimes I longed for a simpler, more common name, ruing my parents for giving me such a difficult name. I resented it even more because my older sister had a far easier name to spell and pronounce.

Although we generally attended international schools, it was still a name that stood out and that most people had never heard before. Even within the more tolerant and worldly community at those schools I heard jokes about my name, my background and certain physical traits from my cultural heritage. Interestingly enough, it was when attending a non-international school that I started to develop a stronger sense of self and didn’t feel the need to shy away from my background. I had always loved my name and where I was from, but I began to accept my name and my identity with a newfound confidence.

As I grew older, the way I viewed my name changed. I would still get frustrated at having to teach people how to pronounce it and it was never fun being the new kid with such a unique name… But the older I got, the more I embraced my name. I was always the only Dounia. People might have had trouble saying it or spelling it, but they usually remembered my name and me. My name, like my heritage, became a source of pride as I became old enough to piece together the different parts of my identity.

I’ve heard my name pronounced so many different ways and I’ve heard it with the lilt of many accents. I’ve been given countless nicknames – some that I love and others not so much. But my name is mine and I love it.


29 years later and I would never change those six letters. I am grateful that my parents gave me a name that stands out and that is part of my cultural heritage. And unknowingly, they also prepared me well for my TCK identity: in Arabic, Dounia means world. My name, my heritage, my background, my TCK experience, all wrapped up in six little letters.

D-O-U-N-I-A

Six letters that say it all.


DSC_1912

Sports Fan – TCK Style

As I watched the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs battle it out for the NBA championship and the Italian soccer team work its way through the Confederations Cup, I realized that even with sports I display signs of being a third culture kid.

As a kid, basketball was the only sport I really watched because we lived in the U.S. at the time and my dad was a huge Chicago Bulls fan. He also loved soccer, but it was harder to find soccer games on television in the U.S. back then. Basketball was easily available and the Chicago Bulls were the team to beat. I have very fond memories from watching those games and to this day whenever I see a basketball game on t.v. I always think of watching the Bulls games with my dad. I know there will always be arguments over Michael Jordan and which players today may have surpassed him, but I will always be a true MJ fan – those years of watching the Bulls can’t erase that. I was always a huge Scottie Pippen fan too… Let’s just say that, in my opinion, no team today will ever match up to the Phil Jackson-Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen era Bulls team. We would watch those games, often with a bowl of popcorn, waiting for the introduction (“And now…YOUR CHICAGO BULLS!”), cheering on our team and calming down our dad too. When Michael Jordan came back to basketball after his odd stint at baseball, and the Bulls soared again to the top, it was a glorious time! Those memories always bring a smile to my face, and I’ve thought about them a lot since moving back to the U.S. a couple of years ago…

But after spending years in the States and following basketball, we moved to Mexico and that’s when soccer entered my life. Suddenly soccer was not only easily available on t.v., it was a much revered sport in that part of the world. And once I started watching it, I loved it, and I proudly cheered on the Mexican soccer team. I even met the coach of their team when he came to visit our school. I was a little young to fully appreciate that encounter, but I was old enough to know how cool it was and to remember it to this day. We stood in a line on one of the fields at school, we listened to him talk, and then we could ask for autographs… Sadly, I don’t know where that autograph ended up, but at least I still have the fun memory.

Although Mexico was my first taste of soccer, I was still young and mostly enjoyed watching it with my dad, without really understanding the game or the excitement. But many years later, after hopping to a couple more countries in between, we ended up in France and that is where the true love affair with soccer began. In Europe, soccer is also very big and I quickly became a huge supporter of the French team. I loudly chanted “Allez les Bleus!” and proudly wore my Zidane t-shirt. For several years they were my team – I cheered them on, I defended them and celebrated when they won. Then a few things happened which slowly caused my allegiance to waiver – my favorite players began to retire, and I met my husband. Let me present the situation: my husband is Italian and he is a huge soccer fan. So naturally, we argued over which team was better and if they played against each other – like they did at a World Cup final (!!) – there was a lot of trans-Alpine rivalry! But then the structure of both teams began to change: the French players I adored left, and the Italian players I so disliked left as well. And yes, I slowly but surely fell in love with the Italian team. I am now an avid supporter of the Azzurri – yelling at the t.v. when unfair calls are made, shouting at them to get their act together, stressing at the edge of my chair when it’s a close game and whooping madly when they score. It’s a deep love now, made stronger by a couple of things. Firstly, we met one of the main players on a beach in Italy, with his lovely wife and adorable kid and he was so nice, despite us ‘interrupting’ his vacation to tell him how great it was to watch him play. And secondly, because of my unwavering, unfaltering adoration for their goalie Buffon and their ‘maestro’ Pirlo. Sadly, there is a very real possibility of them both retiring after next year’s world cup… Here’s hoping they have a beautiful and successful final year.

Throughout the years living in several countries, we cheered on many different teams and we tried a wide variety of sports too. We learned about sports we never knew existed (netball, for example) and until this day we’ll support the national teams/athletes of the different countries we lived in. I have cheered Mexico on with “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL”!!!; I have worn green and gold for the Australian athletes; I have painted my nails red, white and blue or red, white and green for the French and Italian teams; I have proudly displayed my cedar and “I love Lebanon” t-shirt… During the Olympics we almost always have someone to cheer for in each sport, and we just love seeing the joy of whoever wins. Sometimes it might be tough to choose who to support when two of “our” countries are competing, but usually it’s just wonderful to have so many nations we know and love. Even in sports this mixture of cultures and countries is so important, and supporting those different teams is just another byproduct of being a TCK. Moving back to the U.S. reminded me of this yet again as I found myself watching sports that were part of my childhood, all while watching sports that I came to love much older. Going from expat to repat has brought all sorts of lessons and revelations, even in sports.

Right now you’ll have to excuse me – I have to go cheer on Italy in the hopes that they beat Spain in the semifinal of the Confederations Cup…

Which Type Are You?

No, I’m not talking about blood types; I’m talking about TCK types. The reason it’s so difficult to explain what it is to be a TCK is that there is no single definition. There are no rules, there are hardly any guidelines. There is no determined number of countries you have to have lived in; there isn’t a required number of languages to speak; there’s no maximum or minimum limit to how many passports you should hold…I could go on.

So, how do you define a TCK, and how many types are there? Your guess is as good as mine.

Even in my family, we have different types of TCKs. Take me and my sister for example. By the time we had turned 18 and we were graduating from high school, we had lived in 6 and 7 countries each, respectively. We spoke 3 languages fluently at that time, could understand a 4th and had gone to 5 different schools in 5 different countries. We were old enough in most of the countries we lived in to have clear memories from our time there. We also know what it’s like to be the new kid at school – being in a new country, a new school, how lost and strange you feel those first days. That feeling made a huge impact on me, and whenever we had new kids at school I would always see if I could help them out, if they needed anything. I know all too well how it feels, how scary and lonely it can be starting someplace new. We’re definitely third culture kids, through and through.

My brother, on the other hand, who is about 10 years younger than me, had a very different path. By the time he was 6, he had already lived in 4 countries, but most likely only has memories from the last 2, if not just the last one. But after that 4th country, he didn’t move again. He is graduating from high school this year, and he’s the only one of us three siblings to have done ALL of his schooling in the same country, same school. He speaks 2 languages perfectly fluently, has working knowledge of a 3rd, and somewhat understands a 4th. My brother has no idea what it’s like to be the new kid. He’s always been the ‘old’ kid. He never had to learn new hallways, new classrooms, new buildings. He never had to find his way around totally alien territory, surrounded by
unfamiliar faces. Is he still a third culture kid? Or is part of being a third culture kid experiencing that feeling of total desorientation in a place that ultimately becomes home?

We immersed ourselves into the culture of every country we lived in; we embraced everything we could learn and take from it. And we certainly took away so much from every country. Traditions, decorations, food, celebrations, and something much less tangible, but all the more powerful – all those places became part of who we are today. Other TCKs I have met stay much more on the surface of the places they live. They often stay within groups and locations where they will find people from their native country, without mingling with the locals. They avoid local traditions, local stores, neighborhoods…they consider their time there as a transition before they head back home, wherever home may be. They are still third culture kids, are they not? Or does being a third culture kid mean truly experiencing every country you’ve lived in?

Who decides what a third culture kid is or what it means to be one? Can we define what makes a third culture kid?

So, what type are you?

1,2,3: The Three Cultures of a Third Culture Kid

For those of you who recall my second entry, I questioned the term “Third Culture Kid” and why it was coined as “third” culture. There are certain things we just know as TCKs and we all understand them without having to explain them. But what if we wanted to explain the term third culture kid? What if we wanted to explain what it meant to be a third culture kid, or why we’re called third culture kids? Well, it might be hard to have one exact answer for that, but I have an explanation here that might help. I came across this explanation of the three cultures of a third culture kid as I was reading other blogs on TCKs, and I was absolutely fascinated by the clear and concise manner in which it was presented. The author of the blog has kindly allowed me to repost her work on my blog; all credit goes to Libby Stephens (Certain sections have been abbreviated, for the entire text, please visit Libby’s blog at http://libbystephens.com/blog/third-culture-kids/31-the-3-qthird-culture-kidq-cultures).

Culture 1: The Legal Culture.
It is the passport culture, the citizenship country. It is that country that a person belongs to legally. Is it possible to have more than one ‘first culture’? Most definitely! In fact, the numbers of TCKs having more than one ‘first culture’ seems to be on the rise.

Culture 2: The Geographical Culture. 
This culture is a compilation of all the cultures and countries a TCK has lived in (not visited), whether it is 2, 4, 6 or more countries. It is this ‘second culture’ that is the main contributor of cultural behaviors adopted by the TCK such as appropriate greetings – you know, kissing on cheeks, bowing at the waist or shaking hands. The second culture also influences both verbal and nonverbal language and a myriad of other things…TCKs take the “elements” of the cultures lived in and make them an integral part of their life.

Culture 3: The Relational Culture. 
Of all three cultures in the definition, this is the one that is the most misunderstood, but it is also the one that most TCKs often hold as the most precious. This is the culture that explains why the Brazilian who has lived in Tanzania and Switzerland can connect with the Canadian who has lived in Singapore and New Zealand. The ‘third culture’ is not a how many countries issue, nor is it a which countries issue. The third culture is a unique and separate culture shared only by others who have also lived internationally and multi-culturally yet not necessarily in the same countries... It is not ‘culture one’ mixed with ‘culture two’ to make ‘culture three’. It is a unique and separate culture with their own way of communication, social interaction, values, etc. This culture has no legal standing, passport or rights. It has no geographic locus. There is no place to stick a pin on the map…

Again, this is not the definition of the Third Culture Kid, simply an explanation of the three TCK cultures.

The part marked in bold was highlighted by me, because I was struck by how clear that explanation was, considering it is a notion that is so difficult to put in words. We all understand this, we all feel this, as TCKs, but how many of us have been unable to explain it when asked? To someone who hasn’t lived as a TCK, this explanation shows them why there is a link between all TCKs, why there sometimes seems to be a hidden code that only we have access to. It doesn’t mean they will fully understand it – I still hold to what I said in my earlier entries that I believe it to be impossible (or nearly) for a non-TCK to really understand what it is to be a TCK – but at least this puts in words why us TCKs feel such a connection to each other.

It brought clarity to me on certain questions that had been in my mind for a while, probably ever since I heard the term TCK and realized I was one. I knew that one of the three cultures was that of my passport, but I was never able to explain the other two. With this breakdown of the 3 cultures, it was as if I suddenly found that word I’d been looking for, that was always on the tip of my tongue, but getting stuck there. It struck such a chord with me and it is for this reason that I was compelled to share it on my blog. Unless I am the only “ignorant” TCK out there, I am assuming (and hoping!) that others will find answers and clarity in this explanation as well. Please feel free to share your thoughts, comments, suggestions on this explanation or anything else really! It’s always great to hear what others think, and to share thoughts and experiences – with TCKs or non-TCKs. Looking forward to hopefully hearing from all of you out there…

Third culture kid, and still figuring it out, signing off.

La Joie Des Retrouvailles

Something you learn firsthand as a TCK is that love and friendship can weather the challenges of time and distance. You don’t realize that immediately, but with time you learn that real love and real friendship don’t have boundaries. Sure, if people change or there’s no effort on both sides, the friendship can fade. I’ve experienced that many times, but what I’ve experienced even more is the love of the people who are important to me, and how that love withstood the tests of time and distance. This includes family and friends, and I recently had the joy of seeing just how true and strong love can be.

Our wedding was almost 2 weeks ago, but I’m still feeling the afterglow from all the love and joy of having family and friends reunited around us. That they came from near and far, some just for the weekend, no matter the distance, filled my heart and soul with even more happiness than I expected. It feels amazing to have all (or nearly all, in this case, as some were missing) the people you love with you, no matter how fleeting the moment. Being a TCK and being away from so many people you love teaches you to appreciate every moment with them. And it is truly a wonderful feeling to have that love and friendship reaffirmed after years apart. It fills you with boundless joy, reaching into the deepest part of your heart and soul. Ca te permet de te ressourcer et de voir le monde et chaque instant avec encore plus d’amour et de beauté. C’était un merveilleux moment, absolument inoubliable, et j’ai été comblée de bonheur.

Merci à toute la famille et à tous les amis. Merci d’avoir été présents, merci de votre amour, et merci de m’avoir rempli le cœur d’une joie inépuisable.

E grazie mille a l’amore della mia vita – il mio cuore e la mia vita non sarebbe intero senza di te. Ti amo.