Interview with Ruth Van Reken

A few weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 2016 Families in Global Transition Conference in Amsterdam. It’s the third time I attend this conference and every time I find myself re-energized and grateful for this international community. It’s a space where I don’t have to explain myself or my background; I feel welcomed, understood and heard.

This year we had three spectacular keynote speakers, including the founder of FIGT and Third Culture Kid/Cross-Cultural Kid advocate, Ruth Van Reken. Ruth is so much more than that, however, so in her honor I would like to share my interview with her from 2014. That was the first year I attended FIGT and the first time I met Ruth – her warmth, humor and genuine interest in everyone she meets made a lasting impression. It was a privilege to interview her in 2014 and to hear her speak this year.

This interview was first published in Insights and Interviews from the 2014 Families in Global Transition Conference: The Global Family Redefined

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Certain names immediately come to mind when thinking about Third Culture Kid (TCK) research: Norma McCaig, Ruth Hill Useem, David Pollock and of course, Ruth Van Reken.

It is difficult to find just one word that defines Ruth, who is a missionary kid, an Adult Third Culture Kid, author, teacher, public speaker, and advocate of TCKs, among many other things. She was born in Kano, Nigeria to an American mom born and raised in Chicago, and an American ATCK dad born in Resht, Iran. She spent much of her childhood in Africa, returning to the US. for high school. As an adult, Ruth went to college, became a nurse, and then met and married her husband, David. Also a missionary kid and TCK in his own right, having lived two years in China as a child, David is also a doctor and as he wanted to work overseas, Ruth continued her expat life with her husband, raising three global nomads of her own in Liberia and the US.

As an Adult TCK, daughter, mother and grandmother of TCKs, Ruth knows the impact of this lifestyle and the importance of understanding it. She is dedicated to helping others understand their journey and to spreading the word about this global community. Without Ruth there would be no TCK ‘bible’ (Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds) and no Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conferences.

Finding Words for Her Story

The two publications Ruth is most known for, Letters Never Sent and Growing up Among Worlds, were written under very different circumstances, but they both helped Ruth (and others) understand their own TCK background.

Letters Never Sent

Although she had led a happy life, as an adult Ruth found herself battling depression various times. It was triggered again when her oldest daughter left for the first time to return to the US for school, and Ruth realized it might be linked to her own childhood. A year later, in 1986, the whole family moved back to the US, settling in Indianapolis, which was a new adjustment for them all. It was during these periods that Ruth started keeping a journal, which would later be published as Letters Never Sent.

Finally writing about her experiences, at 39 years old, helped her process the emotions she had felt growing up as a TCK, especially about leaving home and going to boarding school. Expressing those emotions allowed her to finally address them and cope with them.

“This was not a book about a topic but simply a process of self-discovery,” she explained.

Her story resonated with many readers, and it continues to do so today, having sold over 32,000 copies. But when Ruth first wrote Letters, she had a hard time getting it printed because publishers didn’t believe there would be enough interest in her story.

“They said […] that not enough people would care about it as not that many had lived it,” she recalled. “Finally a friend who was a printer said he would print it for me for free and I could repay him if I sold it.”

From there Ruth did the selling herself until her collaboration with author and publisher Jo Parfitt, which allowed her book to receive the exposure it deserved. Jo revamped Letters by adding photos, an epilogue by Ruth, and making it available in print and kindle ensuring Ruth no longer had to sell it herself.

The book initially shunned by publishers would go on to impact people all over the world, who realized they weren’t alone in how they felt. By sharing her experiences and emotions, Ruth has helped others to learn from her lessons and ultimately live better in their understanding.

Letters showed me there was a well of grief that I had not been able to own or express,” she said. “And when we are protecting against the pain, we also cannot dare to live in the fullness of the joy.”

Growing Up Among Worlds

It was while working on Letters that Ruth and David Pollock first connected. He was preparing a conference on TCKs and she sent him a letter asking if he was doing anything to help adults struggling with their TCK experiences. That one letter led to a great friendship and collaboration.

Working on Growing up Among Worlds was a very different process to writing her journal. David had done much of the research but someone needed to put it in writing and make it available to others. In addition to writing it, there was also a need to clarify the whys of such a lifestyle, which were the challenges Ruth took on. Trying to explain the impact of growing up as a TCK also helped her understand herself better.

“As I tried to sort out the why do these characteristics emerge, I began to get new insights into my own story,” she recalled. “I could then use my story and hopefully expand to help others have a language for their story too.”

The Creation of Families in Global Transition

FIGT had very humble beginnings in the Midwest USA. While trying to adjust to life in suburban Indiana after living overseas, Ruth realized that not enough help was being given to relocated families. Although relocation packages included nice benefits and practical information, they lacked support in other areas.

“Topics such as transition, TCKs or spousal matters were not covered,” she said. “There seemed little awareness or appreciation for the enormity of the emotional/ psychological/ social issues that they or their children faced.”

In the meantime, Norma McCaig had started Global Nomads and David Pollock was talking about TCKs to international schools and organizations. Ruth’s memoir, Letters Never Sent had been published and people had begun writing to her, sharing their own similar experiences.

“It was apparent that issues related to global family living were real out in the world but they seemed invisible where I was living in Indianapolis,” she recalled. Then one day while sitting at her kitchen table with three friends, discussing the book she was writing with David Pollock, they realized it would be great to spread this information to a wider audience.

And so began the preparation for the first FIGT conference.

They found a venue, set a date (May 16th 1998) and created a logo, which is still used today. They even found a star speaker: David Pollock. At the time he was Executive Director of Interaction International (formerly Manhattan Youth Services), which he had co-founded in the 1960s. Few locals attended the conference, but many people traveled into town to hear David speak and ‘the magic of FIGT began’.

Although that first conference only had two sessions, it was so successful a second one was planned the following year and by 2001 FIGT had become an official organization. The conference was eventually moved from Indianapolis to Houston where there was a larger international community due to the oil industry, before moving to its current home in Washington, DC.

“Throughout the process, incredibly dedicated and capable board members […] have continued to lead the way to making FIGT what it is now,” she said.

Although David Pollock is gone, his legacy continues, not only through the knowledge he has left behind, but also through his son Michael, who led a Concurrent session with Ruth at the 2014 FIGT conference.

The FIGT Bookstore

Another evolving aspect of FIGT is the bookstore. At the first conference there was no bookstore – there wasn’t even a book table. Ruth’s husband sold them straight from the boxes in the lobby towards the end of the conference.

“No one believed there was enough interest in such a topic to generate many sales,” Ruth recalled.

The main books available at the time were Letters Never Sent by Ruth and Strangers at Home by Carolyn Smith, a US diplomat’s daughter. The following years there were more, including Growing up Among Worlds as well as publications from Jo Parfitt and Robin Pascoe. But unfortunately the choices remained quite limited.

Today there is an online bookstore and a physical bookstore at the FIGT conferences filled with a myriad of expat and TCK-related books.

Future Research and Passing the Torch

Ruth is currently working on new research regarding Cross-Cultural Kids (CCK). She wants to see how certain lessons can apply to all children who have experienced a globalized upbringing or some form of displacement from their parents’ home/culture.

“The details of the stories for a refugee child and an ambassador’s daughter are world’s apart,” she noted. “But both have lost the stability and connection to one world around them where they would have traditionally grown and had their identity mirrored back to them.”

Her hope is that by understanding the TCK experience it is also possible to help children from other cross-cultural backgrounds. She hopes to expand our views of who constitutes a global nomad and to use our past lessons to benefit them.

“If we have identified the gifts TCKs often receive from their cross-cultural childhood […] then is it possible those with other types of cross-cultural backgrounds […] have the same kinds of giftings?” she questioned.

She is also hopeful that future generations of TCKs/CCKs will continue to carry the torch for the global community. “Now we are in TCK Phase Two, watching your generation move into its place in the history of the world and build on the past so lessons learned can be applied to the present and prepare others to live well in a future where I believe CCKs of all backgrounds will be the norm and not the exception,” she said.

Although she speaks of passing the torch to the next generation, Ruth is far from done with her work. She continues to travel to conferences and schools speaking about TCKs and how to help them understand and make the most of their experiences.

Meeting Ruth was a highlight of the conference for me – I was immediately won over by her kindness, humor and warmth. She seems to have time for everyone, despite being in constant demand. She is modest and humble, almost to a fault, which only makes her more charming. She has done so much for this community and yet always downplays her contributions, preferring to give the credit to others. Thankfully those around her are willing to sing her praises and give her the recognition she deserves.

Ruth had endless wisdom to share, both when we spoke at FIGT and when I interviewed her after. She knows that growing up as a TCK/CCK is not simply good or bad. There are challenges and sorrow, but there are also amazing opportunities and happiness. Sometimes we forget that the ups and downs are both necessary parts of life.

“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,” she said. “Never ever forget you only grieve for losing something you loved.”

After these many words of wisdom, she shared one final piece of advice, which she has carried around her whole life.

Her ATCK father told her: “Ruth, no matter where you go in life, always unpack your bags and plant your trees […] Maybe you won’t be there to eat the fruit from those trees, but someone else will.”

In an increasingly mobile world, perhaps that is the greatest piece of wisdom.

 

 

#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

#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.

Alien Citizen: Laughter, Tears and Finding the Right Words

The Families in Global Transition conference held many surprises for me. I was surprised at how kind and generous everyone was. I was also surprised how we all truly connected to each other and how we all wanted to share our stories. As much as I hoped to find that sense of community, family and home, I didn’t expect it to be so present and strong.

What truly caught me off guard, however, was the intensity of my emotions at the conference. And nothing embodied that more clearly than Elizabeth Liang’s show – Alien Citizen, An Earth Odyssey. Her honest performance left us all spellbound from beginning to end. In a way, it was my story, our stories that she was playing up there. We all struggled at times to find the right words; we all felt a connection to people weaving in and out of our lives; we all remember feeling lost, alone and afraid. But we also remember the beautiful moments too – so we laughed with understanding as we recalled our own stories. And we also cried with very deep understanding as we felt those same emotions well up inside of us.

At least I know I did.

And I did not expect that.

I had heard wonderful things about Lisa’s show and I was really looking forward to seeing it, but I didn’t think it would impact me the way it did. I didn’t know it would reach deep into the core of my being and strike such a chord in my heart.

Lisa’s performance hit even closer to home for me because I’ve lived in Central America: I spent three and a half years of my childhood in Mexico. I not only understood the Spanish, but also the cultural aspects…As well as the orange Fanta – although that was my sister’s favorite, not mine. I also understood the Arabic since I’m of Lebanese origin. And I definitely understood Connecticut, because that’s where I’m living now and it’s been a tough adjustment.

I’m sure many others connected with different parts of her stories, recognizing their own experiences in her words. We all know that moving from country to country is not an easy thing to do. Saying goodbye, leaving a home and starting somewhere new is not a fairytale adventure. I didn’t realize just how honest Lisa had made her show – I had expected the laughter, but not the tears. And truth be told, they were as welcome as the laughter. Sometimes we’re so focused on only thinking of the positive that we forget to grieve. But Lisa reminded us that we have to give ourselves permission to feel our pain in order to really see our experiences and appreciate them.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to express those feelings. Lisa found solace in acting and I know I found solace in writing. Somehow we found the words, in our own way. Now I just need to find the right words to do justice to her performance.

But maybe our silence and glistening eyes at the end of her show said it all.

Patience is a Virtue

Transitions are never easy, no matter your age or where you are. Times of change and going into the unknown will always be simultaneously scary and exciting. As third culture kids we have more experience with change and so we may understand the challenges better, but it doesn’t mean we have it all figured out. Sure, we have more practice with adapting and we know it gets better, but even we feel lost, lonely and confused. Even we question ourselves and doubt our capabilities when we’re thrown into a completely new environment. And surprisingly, we question ourselves even more when we are in a supposedly familiar place, and still struggle to adapt. We pride ourselves on being resilient and being able to settle in anywhere, so when we have a hard time doing that we doubt ourselves. We get frustrated and feel something must be wrong with us for not figuring it out.

This is something I’ve experienced during these past years since I’ve returned to my passport country. I wondered why it was taking me so long to adapt here and why, even years later, I was still struggling. I couldn’t understand and I was frustrated, questioning how I could call myself resilient when I couldn’t even settle here properly. I’ve written recently about my struggle to adapt, sharing my realization of something crucial: I was being so hard on myself because I kept viewing it as a re-entry, when really it was a new entry. This experience also helped me learn a very valuable lesson that applies no matter where you are or what you are going through: be patient and kind with yourself. I have read this before and my mom recently said it to me, but I had never truly understood its meaning or importance until these last few years. It is one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned, but also one of the toughest. You only learn it the hard way and it’s very difficult to stick by. It’s so much easier to doubt and question yourself, to get frustrated and feel inadequate… It’s so much easier to do that than to say, “Hey, this is tough and I’m doing the best I can. I just need time and I’ll figure it out.”

We can be so patient and understanding with others, yet we refuse ourselves that same kindness. We forget that what we are doing is no easy feat and that years of experience doesn’t mean we have everything figured out from day one. We (or at least I) also seem to forget that the challenges we faced as third culture kids are not exactly the same as adult third culture kids.

I’ve written this from my point of view as an adult third culture kid, but I believe this is a lesson that applies to everyone. The words ‘you are your own worst enemy’ or ‘you are your harshest critic’ ring so true for many us. But we should learn to not be so hard on ourselves and not be so quick to doubt what we’re capable of. Whatever transitions you may be going through, wherever you are in the world, however old you are… Remember to be patient and to be kind – not just with others, but with yourself too.

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Reflection and Transition: Becoming an Adult Third Culture Kid

It has been just over two years that we’ve been living in New England. Some days it feels like it’s been much longer than that, and other days it’s hard to believe it’s been already two years. This move was a big change in so many ways and really played a huge part in my transition from third culture kid to a third culture adult (or more commonly an “adult third culture kid – ATCK). I was an adult before, in all ‘official’ senses of the term, but I still had the comfort of the family home, I could return to a TCK environment regularly and was still in a familiar place. Coming here was when I truly entered the adult world, in so many ways. And although I find it odd to consider myself an adult and to realize I’m 27, well on my way to 28, I know I am an adult and a capable one. I still don’t really feel like one, but I seem to be doing a good job pretending…so far.

This move didn’t just make me transition into really being an adult, but it also made me acutely aware of how I was officially an adult TCK. I realized just how much impact my TCK life had on me when I was no longer in a TCK environment. I had already noticed it when I went to university, but I could (and did) return often to my high-school and I was still at home too. I was also in a city and country that has many foreigners, so even if they weren’t TCKs, we weren’t completely the odd ones left out. Moving over here was a whole different story. We’re in a relatively small, very American town and foreigners are very rare. This has a much wider reach than university and it’s been a big challenge in the transition. That’s when you really feel how different you are and just how much perception is impacted by the life you lead growing up.

The years here have made me reflect upon my life growing up as a TCK. I’ve become much more aware of how grateful I am for that life and how much I love it, despite the challenges it presented, then and now. I’ve also realized just how different it makes us and how much it changes the way we see the world. I’ve also learned how easy it is to be misunderstood by non-TCKs and to modify my conversation accordingly. It’s definitely been an eye-opening and challenging experience so far, but I know it only makes me better at adapting and tackling whatever comes my way.

Two years later and I’ve figured it out a little. More than last year and the year before, but less than the years to come. I know I’ll never have it fully figured out, but as they say – it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

Here’s to the journey and to figuring it out a little more each step of the way.