#TCKchat: New Kid On The Block

pic163-detailThis article first appeared in the September 2015 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!


Over the past couple of months the topics at #TCKchat have continued to be varied, thought-provoking and insightful. We finished our series of chats on race, culminating with a conversation about cultural and racial identity. We discussed the Third Culture Kid (TCK) ‘label’, and current/ future research topics for TCKs. We looked at how sports can be an important connector and tool to engage in your community. We also shared thoughts, advice and suggestions on creating and maintaining a global career.

As this issue of Among Worlds is focused on new beginnings, however, I would like to jump back a few months to a #TCKchat we had in September 2014 entitled New Kid on the Block.

Practice Doesn’t Always Make Perfect

The saying ‘practice makes perfect’ can apply to many things in life, but not to everything unfortunately. I’ve been the new kid quite a few times and I don’t think it really gets easier or better the more you do it. Sure, you might get more used it and as the years go by you’ll be more mature so you can handle it differently. But, on the flip side, as you get older, feelings get more complex and there’s more to juggle.

Being the new kid at school is never easy. It can be stressful, embarrassing, upsetting and lonely. Throw in a foreign country, a different school system or a new language and it becomes even more daunting. Sometimes there might not even be the comforts of home and personal belongings – they might still be shipping from across the world as you stay in a hotel.

By the time I was eighteen, I had lived in six countries (on four continents) and had gone to five different schools. I attended international/ American schools in Mexico, the Philippines and France; local schools in the U.S. and Australia; and then went on to study in French and British universities. I know all too well how it feels to be the new kid.

Although I was lucky to have supportive parents and a sister who shared the transition struggles, I still had to navigate the school days on my own. I had to talk about myself to unfamiliar faces, through the nervousness and sadness; I had to correct teachers on the pronunciation of my name; I had to find somewhere to sit at lunch and try not to feel too lonely. I don’t think more practice could have made any of that much easier.

It’s The Little Things That Matter

Although the first days and weeks were tough, I always settled in eventually. I made friends, found my way around the school and one day, I was no longer the new kid. But I knew how difficult it was to feel so lost and alone, and I learned that the smallest gestures of kindness could make an enormous difference.

I took that lesson to heart and decided I would do everything I could to make the experience easier for other new kids. I initiated conversations with them and asked if I could help out. I looked out for them and if I ever saw someone who looked lost or lonely, I would introduce myself, offer to help them find their way, or simply talk to them and get to know them. Sometimes all you need is to know that someone cares.

Having the right kind of support during these transitions is so important, and I am grateful for those teachers and students who reached out a helping hand. I am even more grateful to have parents who were always supportive and reassuring. They did everything they could to help us navigate the tough parts of these experiences and cope with all the changes in our lives. Having siblings also made things infinitely easier – it was comforting to know I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling and what I was going through. We didn’t need grand gestures to help us through those moments. We simply needed a friendly smile, a sympathetic ear, a shoulder to cry on, a comforting hug – something that reminded us we weren’t alone and that everything would be alright.

I won’t pretend that moving was (or is) easy. Leaving behind all that’s familiar and starting somewhere new can be daunting and overwhelming. There are bound to be moments of sadness and loneliness. But it is also an exciting adventure, with wonderful opportunities. Being the new kid is never easy and new beginnings are always a little scary. Yet before you know it, you’ll know your way around school, you’ll be giving directions to tourists, and you’ll be calling that strange, foreign place home.


What Others Had to Say

At #TCKchat we discussed being the new kid – sharing thoughts on how to make friends, who helped us through the transition, how we coped with being the new kid and finally offering up some advice for others going through similar challenges.

What type of a TCK were you when you first moved to a new place? Chameleon? Observer? Did you jump right in or have your guard up?

  • @tckwsucoug Looking back though, I always made new friends who ended up being ‘just like me’ a TCK or otherwise, with shared experiences. #TCKchat
  • @DouniaB_TCK I was always myself though, so no chameleon for me. I had great family support so I felt I could be me without worrying. #TCKchat
  • @mkPLANET I was a chameleon observer, blending in as much as possible while studying my peers. Looking back I wish I’d been myself more. #TCKchat
  • @unsettledtck Chameleon/ observer all the way! It behooved me to be a cool kid ASAP so I learned how to read the room quickly and then adapt. #TCKchat
  • @TCKPonders ALWAYS had my guard up! Existed on the fringes with a basic friend group till I found my feet & felt more confident. #TCKchat
  • @marilyngard Chameleon without a doubt. Changed with the world around me. Resulted in pain all around. #TCKchat
  • @CrissXCulture I was 5 years old and a little integrator, playing with anyone and everyone without thinking, as kids do. #TCKchat
  • @TCKFeminist I was sort of a hybrid observer. I’d try to be friendly to every person I met whilst quietly figuring out the group dynamics. #TCKchat
  • @livingquestions Definitely chameleon. I roomed with my twin sister though so I had TCK support, which made it easier to get involved right away. #TCKchat

What was your strategy for making new friends?

  • @seachangementor Looked for kids that were into the music I liked. If they wore a cool band t-shirt on free dress day, I would strike up a conversation! #TCKchat
  • @mkPLANET My strategy for making new friends was simply being open. I was thankful for anyone who wanted a friendship with me. #TCKchat
  • @TCKPonders “Safety in numbers!” I’d find a friendly looking group at lunchtime and ask to sit with them. Then I’d integrate. LOL #TCKChat
  • @TCKFeminist I’d smile a lot at people foolishly making eye contact + banter/ make all kinds of small talk. If I could get a laugh I was in! #TCKchat
  • @CrissXCulture My strategy – it was kindergarten – was sharing my crayons and playing tag. Engaging is the best way to make friends. #TCKchat

Who helped you adjust? Teachers? Counselors? Peers and/or classmates?

  • @tckwsucoug All of the above. Friends were my support network, oh, and social science books. #TCKchat
  • @CrissXCulture My classmates just included me in everything. Kindergarteners have a way of accepting someone foreign just like that. #TCKchat
  • @marilyngard Having that one good friend that connected me – the toenail polish friend. Teachers were clueless. #TCKchat
  • @DouniaB_TCK Family definitely – parents, siblings… And sometimes that one good friend was enough to help you through. #TCKchat
  • @unsettledtck All of the above: counselors for advice; teachers for academic boosts; aggressively friendly classmates for friends. #TCKchat
  • @mkPLANET My first friend usually took it upon herself to ‘educate’ me in the ways of a Canadian childhood (slang, pop culture, etc.). #TCKchat

What advice would you give a kid about to make their first move?

  • @livingquestions Depends on what age, but mostly – ask for help/ support when you need it. Let someone know how you’re feeling (parent/ mentor). #TCKchat
  • @unsettledtck Try your best to be happy, but if you are struggling, it is okay to ask for help. Don’t keep depression to yourself! #TCKchat
  • @TCKPonders It won’t necessarily all just fall into place, but put yourself out there confidently! #TCKChat
  • @mkPLANET I know it’s hard for kids to believe, but our peers’ opinions of us just don’t matter. Find real friends & your passion in life. #TCKchat
  • @tckwsucoug Ask for help. Reach out to people. Don’t let fear get in the way. Taking the first step opens up lots of insights & connections. #TCKchat
  • @CrissXCulture Don’t be afraid to talk to someone new. You never know who might be willing to share their crayons with you. #TCKchat

Upcoming Dates and Topics

  • September 2 The Struggling TCK
  • September 16 Global Citizenship – Explored
  • October 7 Travel Chat
  • October 21 Global Cuisine – Dessert Edition
  • November 4 Entrepreneurship
  • November 18 TCK Reads (books on the nomadic childhood/ expat experience)
  • December 2 Holiday Traditions
  • December 16 End of Year Grab Bag

#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 

Co-hosts: Second Session

  • Ellen Mahoney @seachangementor
  • Danau Tanu @DanauTanu
  • Cecilia Haynes @unsettledTCK
  • Mary Bassey @verilymary
  • Lisa Zenno @tckwsucoug

Summers of Change 2015

pic163-detailAn earlier version of this piece was first published on my blog in June 2013. The version below was published in the September 2015 issue of Among Worlds.


Many things come to mind when thinking of summer: sunshine, ice-cream, vacation, lounging on the beach, late nights, cool drinks, lazy days and evenings with family and friends… But for me, and many other Third Culture Kids (TCKs), summer was also synonymous with change. In the American and/ or international schools we attended, when June came along and the school year ended, there was always someone moving away. Sometimes we had to say goodbye to friends who were leaving and other times we were the ones packing up. Either way it meant change, adapting to yet another new situation and having to figure it out all over again.

When we were moving there were obviously greater challenges and those summers were truly a period of transition. During those summers, we rarely went directly to the new country. Once school would finish in June, we would pack up the house, ship everything off with the moving company and we would head off to spend at least part of the summer with family. That way we could enjoy our vacation as much as possible before having to confront the inevitable challenges awaiting us.

It was a great idea to allow us this transition period, this pause, in between countries. It softened the blow of leaving our home and gave us strength to deal with arriving in a foreign place. Spending the summers with cousins and grandparents – being surrounded by loved ones and familiarity – eased the pain of loss and of sorrowful goodbyes. It reminded us that some things remain constant and steady, even when everything around us seemed to be a whirlwind of change. It also reinforced our belief that time and distance do not alter true friendship and love.

Summers are meant to be a time of joy, fun, laughter and carefree days. For TCKs moving to a new country the summer was much less carefree and relaxed. While others were still enjoying their last lazy days of lounging in the sun or chatting with friends, we were unpacking boxes in an unfamiliar house, trying to find our way in foreign roads and dreading the first day at a new school. It wasn’t always easy, but it was all part of the experience.

And despite all the tough moments, I would do it again, without a doubt. Those summers of change provided valuable lessons that will last me a lifetime and they taught me how resilient I really am. A restful summer is always welcome, but show me the next opportunity for change and my TCK itchy feet are ready for the next adventure!

I hope you all had a great summer, wherever you may be; and good luck to any of you who went through a summer of a change.

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…

The Return of the Third Culture Kid

It’s been a long time since my last post, as things suddenly got pretty busy. I’ve been working on some other projects, but more importantly I was spending time with my family and attending my brother’s high-school graduation.

I’ve also had the chance to do some thinking about my blog, how it’s evolved and what I really want to do with it. I started this blog to write about and share my third culture kid experiences and memories. Over time it evolved to include a lot of nature photography, some poetry and texts about daily observations… I love doing those posts, and I will continue to do some, but I’ve realized that I really want to get back to the initial goal of this blog. I really want to get back to writing about my expat/TCK experiences and I want to share more of my memories.

I know that I recently posted about wanting to write more, and I guess this is just the natural evolution of my thoughts. There have been several things these past weeks that have reminded me of why I started this blog and how much I love being a third culture kid. My brother graduated from the same high-school as me, where teachers and students alike are third culture kids and expats. It’s a place that makes me happy, where I feel like I belong. Being back there, coupled with many conversations I’ve had lately – with my husband, my family and fellow TCKs – brought me back to the original source of this blog and filled me with a renewed vigor to write about my third culture kid life.

I know this post is short, but please consider this as both an apology for my long absence and an introduction for what’s to come. I hope you’ll stay along for the journey!

Third culture kid, back and better than ever, signing off!

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?

Third Culture Kid and Proud

It’s been a while since my last entry and to be honest I think it’s because I don’t realize just how fast time flies by! I’ve had a lot of ideas to write about, but was having difficulty transcribing my thoughts into coherent words. Moreover, I was really looking for a topic that was close to heart, but something that all third culture kids could relate to. And then I received an email, a comment on my blog, and a subscription, all from the same person. That person happens to be one of my high school teachers, a good friend and a fellow TCK.  Then I learned that some teachers from my high school are using my blog in their advisories with their students.

Now, you could wonder why this would be of such importance or even worth writing about. Obviously there was the initial excitement at having my first subscriber and knowing that more people are following my blog. But more importantly, it was a source of great joy and pride to know that what I am writing can reach out to other TCKs, especially those in an environment that is so important to me. My high school isn’t just my high school. I spent 3 years there as a student, then I returned to work there for a year following my bachelor’s degree, and again after my master’s degree. It is probably the place where I feel the most in my element and the most at home. Strange, isn’t it, to say that about a building essentially, rather than a city or country? In truth it’s not about the building though, it’s about the people; they’re the ones that make a place what it is. There’s a comfort in being surrounded by people like you, people who understand your life. Going back to work in the library there or as a substitute teacher was perhaps the most personally and professionally fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. Knowing the students all had similar stories to mine, being able to connect with them, both as an alum from the school and as a TCK was a much more intense experience than I had expected.

I’ve lived my whole life as a third culture kid, in all the roller-coaster emotions and events that it entails. As an adult today, I’m still a third culture kid. This will be the case for a lot of TCKs. It’s not just something you are or did at some point in your life, it’s something that played a role in defining you and will always be part of who you are. Sometimes it’ll feel like a great thing to be a TCK, and other times it won’t be so easy. Being a third culture kid comes with a lot of baggage. I believe most of it is fantastic, and I’ve loved having the opportunities that this life gave me, but sometimes you see that in hindsight. When you’re leaving your friends, leaving a home that you knew so well, knowing that you have to start from scratch somewhere new, it doesn’t always feel like it’s an enriching and exciting adventure that will leave you with an amazing openness and awareness about the world. It just feels awful, empty and hollow. Then you arrive at that new place, make new friends before you know it, and everything is back to how it should be.  Yes, that’s easier said than done, but then again, it’s actually not that hard, is it? We are resilient beings, us TCKs, never forget that. The things we learn and the way we adapt as third culture kids will forever come in handy, even if you are no longer in a TCK environment. The qualities and skills we pick up as third culture kids will only serve as assets later in life. Use them wisely and you’ll go far no matter what you do and where you are.

I love being a third culture kid, even if it’s not always easy (as a child, a teenager or an adult). I love to write, read and talk about being a third culture kid. I love belonging to such a global community. It may be a ‘hidden’ community to those who don’t know it’s there, but for those of us who are a part of it, we know it’s thriving and growing. It stretches from one end of the globe to the other, spanning great distances and yet all the while proving that it is indeed a small world after all. If you ever have those ‘negative’ TCK moments, where you curse the endless moves you did, all those friends you had to say goodbye to, or if you find yourself surrounded by non-TCKs and you feel lost or alone, remember that there’s a whole bunch of us out there, and we understand. We’re lucky to be part of such a global and encompassing community. And trust me, when you’re no longer in a TCK environment, you’ll miss it, and you’ll seek out the comfort of those who are like you. For all its ups and downs, its complexities and endless twists, I love my third culture kid life, and I would never trade it.

I am a third culture kid, in everything that it means to be one, now and always.