#TCKchat: The Struggling TCK

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This article first appeared in the December issue of Among Worlds.

These articles are not written exclusively for TCKchat participants. I write about the topics we discuss through my personal experiences, which I hope others (TCK or not) can relate to in their own way. As always, I would love to hear/read your thoughts and stories, so please feel free to share!

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Growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) is an incredible experience, but it comes with many challenges. It’s not all about traveling to exotic locations and glamorous jet-setting across the world.

People often forget, or don’t realize, how difficult the TCK life can be. It’s easy to overlook or dismiss the complexities of growing up between worlds, between continents, between homes. We didn’t just travel to different countries, we moved there. There was no going back, no returning to the comfort of home and familiarity once we were done visiting and exploring. Each move meant more goodbyes, loss and grief. It meant being the new kid and having to start from scratch all over again. Growing up as TCKs gave us so much and made our lives richer, but it is also a life filled with transition, adapting and perpetual loss.

False Assumptions

Being misunderstood and fighting off false assumptions can be one of the biggest challenges for TCKs. Non-TCKs often make the mistake of assuming that since we’ve moved before, we should have no problem doing it again. TCKs can generally adapt well and know how to handle transition, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy for us.

Even in adulthood, these misconceptions persist. A question that often comes up is: if we grew up moving often, shouldn’t we be comfortable and happy moving as adults? It’s difficult to explain: just because we lived that life, doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with it.

We may have grown up with a unique lifestyle, but we are just like any other person – we need time to adapt, to transition and to grieve. Too often we are not given that chance, since it’s assumed we’re ‘used to it’ and we’re ‘supposed’ to adjust quickly. It can be difficult to change someone’s mind and to clear it of pre-conceived false notions. Sometimes it’s simply easier to stay silent, which is unfortunately a common way for TCKs to process their emotions.

Silent Struggles

The negative and difficult aspects of a TCK’s life are not often mentioned, even among TCKs. But just because they’re not as visible or openly discussed does not mean they do not exist.

There are many reasons why we choose not to talk about the negative side. Often when we mention the challenges to non-TCKs, we are dismissed and labeled as spoiled, dramatic and ungrateful. Sometimes it can be easier to cope if we don’t acknowledge the grief and the struggles we face. Other times we may feel we don’t have the right to complain or express any negative thoughts because we know how lucky and privileged we are.

By admitting the tough moments, it can feel like we are discarding all the benefits and opportunities we gained. It can be difficult to accept that joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin.

When I interviewed Ruth Van Reken, co-author of Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds, she expressed this notion with great eloquence:

“The joy doesn’t negate the pain of the loss and the pain of chronic cycles of separation and loss also doesn’t negate the joy. Never ever forget you only grieve for losing something you loved. So if you feel grief for a particular time in your life that is no more, oddly you are affirming the good as well. So in those moments of sorrow, recognize you are also acknowledging the richness of your life.”

The Voices of #TCKchat

At #TCKchat we decided to talk about the tough parts. We know that staying silent doesn’t mean it goes away and that sharing is part of the journey to feeling understood and comforted. So we decided to discuss the complexities of the TCK experience. We chatted about what is/isn’t discussed, people’s false assumptions, which challenges are unique to TCKs, and how to provide greater support for TCKs (pre- and post-adolescence).

What issues were clearly not discussed or avoided in your expat community/ household?

@Astricella There was never any discussion around us children being able to adapt. It was always assumed that this was a non issue. #TCKchat

@baydiangirl How to handle the change as a teen. I felt limited because of the culture shock and fear of not really knowing my surroundings. #TCKchat

@RafalJacyna Inside me a crater was growing between my Polish household and my daily external unPolish life that my parents knew nothing of. #TCKchat

@tck_meglet People also liked to avoid issues around racism and sexism as ‘stuff that just happens’. #TCKchat

@erinsinogba Real life racism, classism, culture shock and transitions; the concept of being a TCK. #TCKchat

@unsettledtck Drug issues or addictions were never discussed or brought up. Even when parents would do drugs with their kids. #TCKchat

@bateconsult Domestic violence. #TCKchat

@erinsinogba Another big one was how living overseas affected family relationships. Quite a bit of family dysfunction, separation, divorce. #TCKchat

What is the biggest misconception or assumption about TCKs when it comes to transitions and adjustments?

@tck_meglet That we’re looking for a home or we’re just ‘confused’, or that we’ve been waiting to put down roots in a specific place. #TCKchat

@bateconsult Big assumption: that all TCKs are worldly/ global in perspective as a result of their experiences. #TCKchat

@grappleshark That we didn’t need to say our goodbyes. And that we wouldn’t miss our friends, because there’s more to explore. We miss them. #TCKchat

@DouniaB_TCK Just because we’re used to leaving and saying goodbye, doesn’t mean it’s easy. We need time to grieve and transition like everyone. #TCKchat

@verilymary Since TCKs are natural adapters, there is this assumption that we need zero support (SO not true). #TCKchat

What challenges are unique to the TCK experience (childhood and adolescence)?

@marilyngard How to turn our multicultural past into a meaningful vocation. #TCKchat

@tck_meglet Long-distance relationships of so many different varieties. All the coping strategies you pick up to deal with goodbyes. #TCKchat

@DouniaB_TCK Connecting events, music, movies, etc back to the countries we lived in at the time. Creating our timelines through those countries. #TCKchat

@Sekhmet_12th Relationships, social interaction and understanding cultural differences while respecting them and having yours respected. #TCKchat

@wce917 Challenging the expat bubble. Convincing others outside that bubble you do want to make friends and get out of the ‘walls’. #TCKchat

@verilymary Belonging to multiple places at once or none of them at all. TCKs are all or nothing kind of people. #TCKchat

What are challenges for adult TCKs (ages 19 and beyond)?

@mosso_ikan Should I stay or should I go? #TCKchat

@TCKPonders Navigating relationships with non-TCKs, to be honest. #TCKchat

@bateconsult Choosing to be ‘stable’ in a community that sometimes feels stagnant to you because of your experiences. #TCKchat

@MikeOghia Romantic relationships with non-travelers/ TCKs, imposed identity, and a lack of sense of permanence and belonging. #TCKchat

@erinsinogba Many of us have to deal with a change in our status of privilege. Lots of us aren’t equipped for that. #TCKchat

@unsettledtck Realizing you can never go back to the places you grew up in. You have no ownership there and they changed without you. #TCKchat

@verilymary The good old ‘who am I’ questions, the concept of settling down, and commitment are huge issues for young adult TCKs. #TCKchat

@Astricella Wondering constantly if there is a place in the world where you’d settle and what ‘settling’ actually looks like. #TCKchat

@RafalJacyna Alienation – you may understand a culture, but you are painfully aware that it is not yours and so you stand alone. #TCKchat

@mariacelina Memories and reality can differ. Some TCKs return to places they loved, re-experience it differently, and become disillusioned. #TCKchat

What aspect of the TCK life doesn’t get enough attention?

@danautanu Sex-education about consent. Sexual abuse, harassment and assault. It happens to TCKs too. Our protective bubble is not real. #TCKchat

@verilymary Issues of suicide, depression (which is high among TCKs), and mental health. #TCKchat

@TCKPonders The confusion over how and where to build a life. #TCKchat

@grappleshark What is the long-term plan for a TCK child? Some parents overlook this entirely. There is no plan. #TCKchat

@unsettledtck Mental health and drug issues. Eating disorders and depression. All of these can fall through the TCK cracks. #TCKchat

How can we create a more supportive environment for a struggling TCK (adolescence)?

@livingquestions Bloomability by Sharon Creech and the new Inside Out movie would probably also be useful for struggling TCKs. #TCKchat

@RafalJacyna Somehow link with and mentor younger ones who experience what we once experienced. TCK networking? #TCKchat

@evnicolas Schools can create TCK friendly curriculum. Also invite mentors for workshops. #TCKchat

@mosso_ikan Social networking has definitely helped a lot! Also I guess more communication in the family and school environment? #TCKchat

@MikeOghia International school teachers are really a great gateway to the TCK framework. Increasing their access to TCK resources. #TCKchat

@erinsinogba Family must educate themselves and show empathy and care for TCK struggles. Schools can provide resources, such as books, programs. #TCKchat

@tckwsucoug Open means of sharing personal stories. I think it’s important to be able to freely disclose our stories. #TCKchat

How do we provide support for TCKs post-adolescence?

@unsettledtck Develop more organizations to support TCKs who take gap years before university or who go straight into the workplace. #TCKchat

@livingquestions By helping adult TCKs recognize and connect the dots between their TCK experiences and what they may be struggling with. #TCKchat

@verilymary Finding other TCKs/ CCKs and being able to find myself around them was vital at this point. Mind you, I didn’t know I was a TCK. #TCKchat

@mariacelina TCKchat! In this information age where resources can be made and placed online, we must capitalize on digital means. #TCKchat

@erinsinogba Offline outreach for older ATCKs is also super important. Gotta do it the time-tested, grassroots way! #TCKchat

@grappleshark Connect with them. We are tribal creatures, looking for those who have shared experiences. TCK is a tribe. Get chatting. #TCKchat

#TCKchat General 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:

  • Amanda Bate @bateconsult
  • Dounia Bertuccelli @DouniaB_TCK
  • Michael Oghia @MikeOghia
  • Stephanie Taderera @TCKponders
  • Meghali Pandey @TCKmeglet 

Co-hosts Second Session:

  • Ellen Mahoney @seachangementor
  • Danau Tanu @DanauTanu
  • Cecilia Haynes @unsettledTCK
  • Mary Bassey @verilymary
  • Lisa Zenno @tckwsucoug
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Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

As an adult third culture kid living in a decidedly non-TCK environment, I realize more than ever how much our lifestyle sets us apart. There are fundamental differences in the way we experience and see the world, compared to non-TCKs/expats. Some things can’t be learned on theory alone and all the words in the world would not be able to truly explain them. There are many things I could write about that we experience so differently, but the one I wanted to write about today is the ever present flow of goodbyes in the life of a TCK or expat.

How do you explain the expat/TCK cycle of moving every so often? Of having to watch friends leave and saying goodbye, not knowing if you’ll ever see them again? Of being the one leaving, knowing you’re going someplace completely foreign and leaving behind everything familiar – your house, friends, school, city?…

How do you explain thinking “this time I won’t make friends, so it will be easier when we leave”, but knowing that won’t happen as soon as you meet a kindred soul? How do you explain that as difficult as it is to say goodbye, you’d rather go through that than experience everything alone?

How do you explain the contradictory notion that the goodbyes get simultaneously tougher and easier as the years go by? As you get older, you manage the goodbyes better, yet by the same token, the older you are, the deeper the feelings, so the goodbyes tug even more at your heart.

We must seem crazy to non-TCKs/expats when we try to explain it. It must seem awful to them, to those people who have lived all or most of their lives in the same place, rarely having to say goodbye, almost never having to pack up their life and start again somewhere new. There are many hardships with such a life and on bad days you notice them even more. But on the good days you know how lucky you are and how much you have gained through all your experiences.

As a TCK, you learn very quickly the importance of communication and connecting with people. Often TCKs and expats make deeper connections much faster than first culture kids, because we know how precious each second is, before we’re whisked away to another country. We also understand each other on a deeper level, even if we never lived in the same countries or speak the same languages. We experienced the same emotions, felt the same fears, and shared the same joys. We know the deep sorrow of heartbreaking goodbyes and the powerful happiness of making new friends. We know all too well what it’s like to be the new kid, lost and alone, hoping someone stretches out a helping hand without us having to ask. We know that the smallest gesture of kindness can lead to the strongest of friendship. We also know that even if people change, grow apart or lose contact over the years, the friendships were true and deep while they lasted.

That is why even after going through so many goodbyes, we’re still ready to let others in and to open ourselves to them. We know that no matter how hard the goodbyes might be, everything in between them is so worth it. I think TCKs learn how true that is at a very young age, without ever being told.

Perhaps what I find the most difficult to explain is the one thing I know with the most certainty: that even with those heartbreaking moments, with so many tears shed over goodbyes, with having to figure it all out time and time again, I’d still do it all over again.

“Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all”.           Alfred Lord Tennyson

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